Concept of public service

Concept of public service

Public service is a service which is provided by government to people living within its jurisdiction, either directly (through the public sector) or by financing provision of services. The term is associated with a social consensus (usually expressed through democratic elections) that certain services should be available to all, regardless of income, physical ability or mental acuity. Even where public services are neither publicly provided nor publicly financed, for social and political reasons they are usually subject to regulation going beyond that applying to most economic sectors. Public policy when made in the public’s interest and motivations can provide public services. Public service is also a course that can be studied at a college or university. Examples of public services are the fire brigade, police, air force, and paramedics.

A public service may sometimes have the characteristics of a public good (being non-rivalrous and non-excludable), but most are services which may (according to prevailing social norms) be under-provided by the market. In most cases public services are services, i.e. they do not involve manufacturing of goods. They may be provided by local or national monopolies, especially in sectors which are natural monopolies.  They may involve outputs that are hard to attribute to specific individual effort or hard to measure in terms of key characteristics such as quality. They often require high levels of training and education. They may attract people with a public service ethos who wish to give something to the wider public or community through their work.

Evolution of public service

Governing bodies have long provided core public services. The tradition of keeping citizens secure through organized military defence dates to at least four thousand years ago. Maintaining order through local delegated authority originated at least as early as the Warring States period (5th to 3rd centuries BCE) in ancient China with the institition of xian (prefectures) under the control of a centrally-appointed prefect. Historical evidence of state provision of dispute resolution through a legal/justice system goes back at least as far as ancient Egypt.  A primary public service in ancient history involved ensuring the general favor of the gods through a theologically and ceremonially correct state religion.  The widespread provision of public utilities as public services in developed countries usually began in the late nineteenth century, often with the municipal development of gas and water services. Later, governments began to provide other services such as electricity and healthcare. In most developed countries local or national governments continue to provide such services, the biggest exceptions being the U.S. and the UK, where private provision is arguably proportionally more significant. Nonetheless, such privately provided public services are often strongly regulated, for example (in the US) by Public Utility Commissions.  In developing countries public services tend to be much less well developed. For example, water services might only be available to the wealthy middle class. For political reasons the service is often subsidized, which reduces the finance potentially available for expansion to poorer communities.

In modern democracies, public service is often performed by employees known as civil servants who are hired by elected officials. Government agencies are not profit-oriented and their employees are motivated differently. Studies of their work have found contrasting results including both higher levels of effort and fewer hours of work. A survey in the UK found that private sector hiring managers do not credit government experience as much as private sector experience. Public workers tend to make less in wages when adjusting for education, although that difference is reduced when benefits and hours are included. Public workers have other intangible benefits such as increased job security.

Important values of public service

Values are essential components of organisational culture and instrumental in determining, guiding and informing behaviour. For bureaucracies, adherence to high-level public service values can generate substantial public trust and confidence. Conversely, weak application of values or promotion of inappropriate values can lead to reductions in these essential elements of democratic governance, as well as to ethical and decision-making dilemmas. While a core set of public service values is necessary, it is also true that different values apply to different parts of the public service. For example, a distinction may be made between technical, regulatory and administrative tasks, or between those parts of a bureaucracy in direct contact with the public and those which are not.

Given the increasing range of demands on the public service, as well as the frequent ambiguity in terms of goals, relationships and responsibilities, value conflicts are not unusual. As values can differ within different parts of the public service, one of the principal tasks of managers and leaders is to co-ordinate, reconcile or cope with differing values between individuals or even between parts of the organisation. Also, there are a number of dynamics challenging traditional values in the public service. These include new modes of governance and the fragmentation of authority, market-based reforms (such as New Public Management), politicisation and political expectations, the growth in the use of agencies, decentralisation or relocation, changes in human resource management and recruitment, and the advent of new technologies and methods of information sharing.

Treatment of values

While the identification and mode of expression of values is the first step for any value-driven organisation, acting on those values is essential to give them meaning. Having a list of values does not mean they exist in an organisation. Advocating value sets but not acting on them is even counter-productive. · This study identifies that senior managers are a key cohort in the realisation of a value-based organisation, as their activities send out fundamental signals concerning the relevance of values within the organisation. Ideally, a new statement (or restatement) of values within an organisation should begin at the most senior level. It should be noted that some organisations have ethics or values sub-committees on their boards and have a senior member of staff report to them on the implementation of a values programme. Line managers must also be cognisant of their influence on the establishment of a workplace culture, and the maxim of ‘do as I do, not as I say’ is of relevance here.

Some of the core public service values are as follows:

Accountability: This is essential in field of public administration and particularly important within the context of administrative discretion. Effective administration requires administrators to exercise the discretion with accountability.

Legitimacy: The public interest might also be considered as significant value. Although, there are numerous types and source of legitimacy, the term can be defined simply as the popular acceptance of a governing regime, in this case public administration. More specially, legitimacy arises when the governed consent to the governing institution and believes that those institutions will rule in the public interest.

 Public Interest: There is a common good that is different than the aggregate of private benefit and that common good is something that is in the interest of the larger community, even if it is against the interest of some individuals in the community.

Integrity and Honesty: Public servants hold their office in trust, which underlines two principles they shall not use public office for private gain and they shall act impartially and not give preferential treatment to any private organization or individual. Eg., negotiation of future employment by a public official with a firm with which he has official dealings, prior to leaving public office is widely regarded as a conflict of interest situation. Only when public servants inculcate the noble values of integrity and honesty, a dent in massive corruption problem facing the country can be made.

Spirit of Service and Sacrifice: It is an essential ingredient of public services and public officials should feel inspired that they are working for a national cause.

 

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