Using State Employees to Provide Public Services

If the State uses its own employees – ‘public servants’ – it can provide a uniform level of service across the country.  This allows aspects of services to be coordinated and the benefits of scale can be reaped, but there are some possible disadvantages:

●  Without the pressures of competition, it is difficult to encourage innovation, high quality and cost-effectiveness; some form of governance is needed to ensure that adequate services are delivered at an acceptable cost to the taxpayer.

●  Political influence over senior appointments is a problem, potentially leading to corruption.  For example, it was reported that the British “prime minister and health secretary are being sued for giving top-ranking Tories key public sector roles without any open competition or proper process” when setting up the Test and Trace service during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

●  Although it is reasonable to expect employees of the State to be motivated by a desire to serve the public, there are those who have chosen their careers primarily for job security and who would tend to oppose change – especially cost-cutting.

●  Any public service must compete for funding, but it is harder to cut services if they are provided by unionised State employees.  This might be seen as a good reason for reducing the size of the State sector.

●  The public is deprived of a choice of services.  Depending upon people’s political viewpoints, this lack of choice might be regarded either as good – because it treats everybody equally – or bad because it reduces individual liberty.

The role of the State is an extensively researched topic, as evidenced by the numerous publications on the subject listed on Cornell University’s website for one of its courses: Restructuring Local Government.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/3531.htm