Select Committee on Public Administration Seventh Report


The Public Administration Select Committee has agreed to the following Report:



In this Report, the Committee examines the principles which underpin the Government's programme of public service reform, and in particular the idea of the public service ethos. This ethos, we believe, should be the fundamental reference point for everything else in the reform programme.

When someone describes him or herself as a 'public servant' it is testimony to the power of the ethos. Yet a gap seems today to be opening up between the traditional theory of public service and the reality on the ground. Sometimes public services, and those who work in them, fall short of the ideal. And the involvement of the private sector raises questions about possible threats to the ethos. The boundaries between public and private services are increasingly difficult to define, and the picture is also confused by the emergence of new types of partnerships.

We reject two rival myths about public service, one suggesting that only the public sector can properly deliver public services , the other implying that there is nothing special that distinguishes public services from private services. We conclude that, in the mixed economy of public service, it is possible for private and voluntary sector bodies and people to uphold the public service ethos, although the profit motive may put it under strain.

The public service ethos cannot be taken for granted; it needs to be renewed and strengthened to set out clearly society's aspirations for its public services. While the Government is making some welcome progress towards explaining its vision of reform, it has not yet provided a coherent framework for action.

In uncertain times for public service, a clearer and more explicit way of explaining its values is needed. The ethos needs to be nourished and cultivated. We recommend that the most important values should be set out in a Public Service Code, to be approved by Parliament and adopted by all bodies providing those services. It should include the standards to be reached in ethical behaviour, service delivery, administrative competence and democratic accountability. The Code should be included in invitations to tender and as a contract clause for public service contracts, including employment contracts. It should also be considered for inclusion in the proposed Civil Service Bill. Vigorous efforts should be made to cultivate the right values among public servants, including the establishment of a Public Service Academy.

A Public Service Code

People and organisations providing public services should commit themselves to these principles:

  • Make themselves accountable through elected representatives and other means for their policies and performance, with the highest standards of openness and transparency.

  • Aim to deliver public services that match in quality the best private equivalents, including standards of customer care. Where there is no private sector equivalent, best practice in the public sector should be matched.

  • Treat public service workers and users fairly and equitably, and involve them as much as possible in service issues.

  • Respect at all times the right of the citizen to good administration as set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and his or her right to safe, reliable public services. Proper redress should be made where maladministration has taken place.

  • Remember at all times that public service means serving the public, not serving the interests of those who provide the service, and work collaboratively with others to this end.

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Prepared 24 June 2002