Memorandum by the Association for Public
Service Excellence (PSR 26)
The Association for Public Service Excellence
(APSE) represents officers and elected members involved in the
management and provision of quality public services. APSE's mission
statement positions the organisation as "the agency, that
consults, develops, promotes and advises on best practice in the
delivery of local authority services". APSE is currently
working with almost 300 authorities within the United Kingdom.
In order to respond to your request the Association
consulted with its members in the form of a survey based upon
the issues raised in your consultation paper. This response is
based on the comments they supplied and is set out listing each
of the issues to be addressed. The intention behind the survey
was to obtain both quantitative and qualitative evidence.
The Association in preparing its response concentrated
specifically on questions 6 to 18 which relate to the concept
of a Public Service Ethos and the involvement of the Private Sector
as this issue is to be examined in the first part of the inquiry.
The questions are set out over the following pages. Question numbers
refer to those set out in the original issues and questions paper.
The Association welcomes the inquiry, as it
appears that the main intention is to go back to "first principles"
where the main issue is the modernisation and improvement of service
rather than an argument on the merits of public or private service
provision. APSE over the last two years has sought to highlight
the successes that can be achieved in local government when "Best
Value" is applied in its truest sense and improvements are
driven from within. We feel that while the public service ethos
remains strong it is very much the culture that has changed and
that it is now accompanied by a desire to improve service provision.
In its 2001 Best Value annual statement, Changing
Gear, the Audit Commission stated that there is "much
that we should celebrate in council performance with performance
improving across local government for most of the performance
indicators. There was evidence of good, even excellent, services
and many indications of likely future improvement. Councils are
more open about their performance and are more in touch with the
needs and wishes of service users".
APSE has seen this evidenced best by the establishment
and involvement of 186 authorities (at end November 2001) across
15 distinct service areas in our Performance Networks Benchmarking
service. This model involves authorities sharing comparator information
with each other, exploring best practice and seeking innovation
through process benchmarking. The data collected supports that
of the Audit Commission with trends indicating definite and real
improvement. Take up of the Association's other key activities
such as attendance at our Advisory Networking Groups, take up
of training courses or consultancy services also demonstrate this
The appreciation of the importance of the workforce
are also welcome, as it is essential for excellent service delivery
to have well motivated and committed employees.
It is clear from our survey of our almost 5000
local government professionals covering a wide range of occupations
and services that there remains a belief in the core values of
6. Is the concept of a public service an anachronism?
In our survey just over 81 per cent answered
no to this question and believe the concept is not an anachronism.
It is easy to ridicule the concept of "public service"
as outdated in today's society. However, these views are not only
shared by those in local government but also by the general public,
who in survey after survey support the concept of public services.
(Guardian/ICM March 2001; MORI June 2001)
7. Is there a public service ethos, and how can
it be defined?
Almost 94 per cent of respondents intimated
that they believed there was still a public service ethos. The
simple definition is where the provision of the service is the
most important aspect. A large proportion of public service workers
gain immense satisfaction from the benefit they bring to society
and is a major factor in staying in public service employment.
This is a very complex question, which is difficult
to answer without going into considerable detail. The answers
to the following questions will attempt to give that detail.
8. How is the public service ethos different from
the private (or voluntary) sector ethos?
The major difference has to be the need for
any private sector provider ultimately to make a profit. The public
service ethos ensures that services are provided to meet universal
need rather than only where the private sector can make a profit.
This is because publicly provided services are about more than
service delivery and this has been recognised by the Government
in the Local Government Act 2000 with the power of Social, Economic,
and Environmental Well-Being (the so called ESEWeB power). This
power is about public providers leading, developing and stimulating
Therefore, it is more a culture that exists
within the public sector and this follows through in the targets
and outcomes that are set by management of these services.
9a. Is a public service ethos necessarily a good
The responses to this question matched the previous
questions (questions 6 & 7) with 83 per cent indicating that
they felt the public sector ethos is a good thing. This ensures
that the social advantages are taken into account and a wider
view than merely profit is considered. This concept is now is
now backed up by a number of leading management thinkers. Many
successful companies worldwide now strive to engender shared values
amongst employees, where adopting a common purpose is seen as
9b. Can it be an obstacle to the effective delivery
of services to the public?
The majority of respondents (66 per cent) feel
that it is not an obstacle to effective and efficient service
delivery. The best public service providers through their wealth
of experience and expertise in their own specialist fields provide
effective and efficient services to all sectors of society. Many
respondents commented that the public service ethos is integral
to equitable delivery of services. Local Government is about more
than delivery and provision of services; it is about delivering
democratically decided outcomes, which match the aims and objectives
of the community.
10. Would the creation of a single public service
help a public service ethos?
Over three quarters respondents indicated that
they would not like to see the creation of a single public service.
The diversity of services and specialisms within the public sector
mean that the creation of a single public service is likely to
be counter productive. The challenge is to make the various services
co-operate to better co-ordinate services.
For example, joint planning and review of all
public services within a given area should take place in order
to reduce overlaps and duplication and target future resources
in a co-ordinated response.
11. Is it possible for profit-oriented organisations
to maintain the public service ethos?
This question also brought out a balanced yes/no
response. Just over half of respondents identified the need to
make a profit as the essential difference that differentiated
the two sectors. The relationship and arrangements that the organisations
are operating under also can affect how any "ethos"
is maintained. In the case of outsourcing or externalisation it
will be very difficult to maintain the "ethos" as the
degree of influence from the public sector and its tradition and
management culture will diminish.
Many respondents indicated that it could be
possible for the ethos to be maintained in "genuine"
partnership arrangements. The key factor is that the values of
public service underpin the agreement and that the public sector
is seen to be an equal partner and has a clear understanding of
what it wants to achieve.
In their article, entitled "Vote of confidence
in public services" (23 March 2001) the Guardian stated on
the findings of the poll that voters, now want to see public services
run by the government or by local authorities". The article
went on to also state "The poll shows that the public feel
strongly that those who work for public services are underpaid
and undervalued". It appears that where privatisation was
once seen as the only cure for any identified public sector problem,
a major shift in opinion has occurred with voters of all parties
now favouring a public ethos with little, if any, appetite for
further privatisation. For example, when questioned on should
public services be run not-for-profit? 66 per cent were in favour
Additionally it can be argued that the case
has not been proven that the private sector can provide better
12. What measures, if any, need to be put in place
to ensure that the search for profit does not undermine the public
It needs to be that profit is not the only factor
that is measured, with factors such as access to services, quality
and fair employment being other important considerations. National
politicians of all parties need to value public services and importantly
recognise those who provide them. This should recognise that service
provision is more than just delivering efficient services; it
is also about delivering the wider local community needs and community
leadership. All too often public sector workers are not valued
until an emergency happens, such as in New York, the September
2000 floods, foot and mouth crisis etc.
Where services have transferred between sectors,
terms and conditions have been eroded and these have disproportionally
affected ethnic minority and female low paid workers. This has
a knock on effect on social security and welfare benefits often
negating the cost to the nation as a whole. A particular example
of this is the Refuse Collection workers of Brighton who have
had four different employers in seven years, which because of
the continual transfers has seriously affected their future pension
It is a fact that the world's most successful
organisations respect their workforces and treat them as their
number one asset. The Prime Minister has often indicated the importance
of treating the workforce right in terms of pay, working conditions
and training if employers want to run successful businesses. The
Government through public service employment can and should act
as a model employer for the economy and take a lead. In summary
to this particular question, communication and recognition build
13. Can lessons be learned from the experience
of private sector involvement in public services in other countries?
The survey indicated a unanimous result to this
question with all respondents indicating that lessons could be
learnt. This willingness to take on board ideas and experiences
from others makes a mockery of the belief that public sector workers
are in some way resistant to change. This also backs up our earlier
claim that while the public service ethos remains strong the culture
within the public sector has also changed with a clear desire
to want to improve service delivery.
It is clear that in some countries where the
private sector is the dominant force in the market that public
service provision becomes the last choice. Additionally before
looking at private sector involvement abroad it is necessary to
learn from the mistakes in the UK of where private sector failures
have occurred (Railtrack, provision of Housing Benefits in many
Additionally, surely it is also relevant to
look at the experience and lessons of countries where excellent
publicly provided services are in place to determine what are
the major differences. Is it through increased investment funded
by taxation or better working practices? Also has the case been
proven for private provision? The Chancellor in his November 2001
pre budget statement indicated this very point regarding the future
funding of the NHS.
14. Do private sector people working
in and around government, including secondees, task force members
and others, undermine the public service ethos? Are special measures
needed to regulate their activities and prevent possible conflicts
There has always been a transfer between the
two sectors, where each has learned from the other and clearly
this will continue. 77 per cent of respondents agreed with this
However a similar percentage felt there was
also a need to have in place special regulatory measures. To ensure
transparency there is a necessity for individuals to declare an
interest or for particular companies to be excluded from bidding
for contracts or tenders. This is especially where secondees are
working on projects that may ultimately be up for tender or transfer.
For example consultants who recommend outsourcing services which
their own company subsequently wins. Over 79 per cent of respondents
to the questionnaire backed up this point.
It is also worrying that 28 of the 31 members
of the DTLR strategic partnerships taskforce (figures exclude
seven DTLR civil servants) are from private sector companies with
none from the trade unions or other bodies representing workforce
interests. It could be argued that there is a vested interest
here with individuals who could deliver outcomes tailored to their
own companies needs rather than to the public.
15. Many companies are becoming increasingly aware
of social and ethical issues. Does this make them more suitable
for work in partnership with the public sector, or does it make
No. Ultimately private sector companies will
always have to put profit before social and ethical issues. It
is difficult to see how a company can put in place policies designed
to deliver democratic aims and objectives over profitability.
However, the main factor is not whether companies
are more aware of issues. Of paramount importance should be that
the partnership is a true partnership with both sides sharing
mutual benefits and that the public service provider is seen to
be driving the partnership to ensure that the desired aims are
being achieved. This means that social and ethical issues are
kept to the front in terms of policy.
16a. Do the views, motivations and attitudes of
public sector workers differ from those in the private sector?
This is a complex question and our survey indicated
a balanced range of views. The motivation of workers in both sectors
should be the same. There will be the complete range of attitudes
and views in both sectors with individuals having varying levels
of commitment. The attitudes, views and motivations will vary
based on company culture, management practice, systems, processes,
terms and conditions than on the sector and this is what will
form the above. Poor management and working conditions will equally
affect motivation in both sectors. If an underpinning ethos exists
to put profit at the expense of everything else then this will
transfer to the workforce. If the difference was related to anything
other than these reasons why would so many of the private sector
companies attempt to recruit staff from the public sector?
In summary, the major difference is down to
the tradition of public service and the way the workers are managed
and the culture under which they operate.
16b. Does any difference in motivation have an
effect on the delivery of public services?
Almost 86 per cent of respondents answered yes
to this question. As with the answer to the last question if the
culture is in place to put profit before social responsibilities
then it will make a difference to motivation. The constant criticism
and lack of investment in the public service over a prolonged
period of time has had a negative effect on motivation. Many workers
in the public sector feel undervalued because of this.
An example of criticism and its effects can
be found from the Audit Commission's Best Inspection Service and
its "scoring regime". Services that have been marked
as "unlikely to improve" even if they are proven to
be giving a good or excellent service have reported in an APSE
survey of this having a "serious impact on morale".
17. There is conflicting evidence as to whether
the public is in favour of private sector involvement in public
services (MORI polling, June 2001). What in your view is the truth
about public attitudes?
In our opinion, the polls that have been undertaken
in the last year seem to have indicated an overwhelming desire
for services to be provided publicly. Many examples of this have
come to the fore in the last year;
the speedy reaction to the floods
of October 2000 by all sections of the public sector. Here providing
emergency services came before the question of how is this going
to be paid for.
the breakdown of the rail network
over the last year where the need for profit came before basic
the large number of Housing benefits
contracts being brought back in house.
the acclaim from the citizens of
New York for the response of their public servants in response
to the attacks of September 11.
Using the last bullet point as a prime example,
in the same way as the Mayor of New York, Rudolph Guiliani has
galvanized support for public services, national politicians in
the UK should also recognise the majority of news stories about
public service are positives and the minority negatives.
18. If there are to be rules regulating private
sector involvement in public services, should they apply also
to, for example, the voluntary sector? Should there be less stringent
regulation where profit is not involved?
No. In terms of probity and transparency everyone
should be treated equally. An issue over the last 20 years from
the public sector is the desire to be treated equally (or given
a level playing field) and not to be given preferential treatment.
The only exceptions should be where individuals or companies have
declared an interest.
Thank you for giving APSE the invitation to
submit evidence on this subject. I would also be grateful if you
could include APSE on the mailing for all local government consultations.
If you require any further information on this or any other topic
do not hesitate to contact the Association on the above telephone
Councillor Malcolm Jones
APSE National Chair