Hands meeting in the middle

Shaping our shared future through public services

Issues such as criminal justice, education, national intelligence, state welfare, public health, social care and local services are on the agenda of any government – as well as the people they serve. After all, even incremental improvements or deterioration in public service delivery have the potential to impact millions of citizens.

Understanding what young people and adults want, need and expect is important to knowing how public services can best meet their needs. Demand for better public service delivery is high – and demand for individuals with the skills, expertise and abilities to help shape the services used by everyone is also high.

What are public services?

The public sector refers to organisational bodies owned, controlled and funded by the government. Public services, therefore, are any industries and businesses that operate in this sphere; they are taxpayer-funded, available to the public, and intended to support communities.

The public services sector constitutes six groups:

  • Central government – government departments and agencies
  • Local government – councils, emergency services such as police services and fire services, and other local service providers
  • Higher education – colleges, academies and universities
  • Schools – state-funded primary schools, secondary schools and nurseries
  • NHS – hospital trusts, ambulance trusts, GP surgeries, clinical commissioning groups and state-funded health services
  • Private-run public services – charity public services, care homes, housing associations and social care.

Indeed list further examples of public services as social enterprises, energy, telecommunications, public transportation and infrastructure, urban planning, waste management, environmental protection, consumer protection, immigration and customs, postal services, recreation facilities, sanitation services, public broadcasting, and agricultural programmes. In terms of examples of specific organisations , these include the BBC, the Office for National Statistics, the Bank of England, the Civil Service, and the Armed Forces.

Because public bodies and services are ‘for the people’, each public authority is bound by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) and INSPIRE Regulations.

What is the difference between the public and private sectors?

Partnerships are common between public and private sector businesses and services – but what is the difference between the two?

While public services refers to organisations run by the government, private sector businesses are privately owned and are not necessarily affiliated with the government. Private sector businesses – of which they are thought to be around six million in the UK – operate on a for-profit basis.

There are other key differences between the two, such as the number of job opportunities available; approximately 5.3 million people are employed within the UK public sector, and 27 million people within the UK private sector. While many of the job titles and industries are very similar – for example, within healthcare – pay and salaries often differ dramatically. Not only are public services not-for-profit, but pay is linked to government allowances and organised into structured pay scales. Public service employees also benefit from greater job stability and more comprehensive pensions and benefits packages.

What are the issues in public service delivery?

UK public services vary widely across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as the regions within each. Public services and their outcomes are indelibly linked to government budgets and the amount of funding available

As well as budgetary constraints, there are concerns about how public services are managed. Recent data collected by Ipsos highlights that 7 in 10 Britons do not think the government’s policies will improve public services. The public cite issues such as the cost of living crisis, NHS waiting lists, crime and policing, social care, the climate crisis and a lack of affordable housing.

A PwC report titled ‘The road ahead for public service delivery’ identified a number of key drivers in transforming public services for the better, each rooted in addressing customer expectations:

  • Speed. Service providers should aim to deliver services in the shortest possible time for customers, and make sure they are right the first time.
  • Engagement. Services should adopt a customer-centric approach, both participatory and trustworthy.
  • Responsive. Any variation in ability to meet service levels should be monitored and controlled by an intelligent mechanism.
  • Value. Service delivery should be cost-effective and driven by customer outcomes rather than organisational processes.
  • Integration. Services should be integrated and collaborative to ensure customers can be referred and signposted to the services they need from other public organisations.
  • Choice. Service delivery should occur across multiple ‘channels of choice’, dictated by specific customer needs at a given time.
  • Experience. Aim to personalise the customer experience, in line with experiences they receive from private sector services.

How many of these aims will be financially feasible is difficult to pinpoint and presents ongoing challenges for public services organisations and their leaders. Open Public Services (OPS), part of the Cabinet Office, is the government’s reform programme for public services. It encompasses central government, local government, private sector and civil society, aiming to ensure all individuals have access to optimal services. 

What skills are required for a career in public administration?

Public administration is a varied field, providing you with opportunities to pursue a career in any number of industries and positions. Employees within the public sector – from paramedics to policymakers – often spend much of their time applying critical thinking skills to complex situations and phenomena while devising solutions to common and systemic issues.

Job experts Prospects list a number of fundamental skills for a career in public administration:

  • Communication and diplomacy
  • Leadership and influence
  • An ability to formulate reasoned, logical arguments
  • Collaborative working
  • Resilience.

Are you passionate about leading change and improving public life?

Interested in public service leadership? Join the frontline of developing public services for current and future generations with the University of York’s online MPA programme.

Gain the skills to enhance public performance, handle pressurised, challenging situations, and navigate complex policy context, in a course designed for professionals working in both the public and non-profit spheres. You’ll develop as a strategic, capable and inspirational leader, on a flexible study programme that works around you. Study a wide variety of topics ranging from public finance and procurement, policy analysis and ethical leadership, to service democratisation, regulatory governance and managing change.