Public Services Provided by State Employees

Public services provided by state employees can provide a uniform level of service across the country, with efficiencies of scale.

If the State uses its own employees – ‘public servants’ – it can coordinate service delivery and ensure that resources are in the right place.  This reaps the benefits of scale, 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, Britain’s Conservative government and Boris Johnson came under criticism when 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 public services provided by state employees if they are unionised.  This might be seen by some people 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 scale of public employment, as a percentage of total employment, reflects national politics.  The UK public sector shrank from 19.63% to 16.23% as a result of the austerity imposed by Conservative Chancellor George Osborne between 2010 and 2016.  Comparative figures in 2016 were: OECD average 18.13%, United States 15.27%, France 22.09%, Norway 30.83%, and Japan 5.93%.[1]



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/edition04/3531b.htm

[1] These OECD statistics were retrieved in November 2023, at https://stats.oecd.org/index.aspx?queryid=107595.  The website at that time announced that it would be migrating to a new platform by the end of 2023.