What are public services?Posted on: July 7, 2022
by Ruth Brooks
Public services comprise any service intended to meet the needs of the community. In the United Kingdom, the core public services span healthcare, emergency services, education and social care. These essential resources are provided democratically by government to all citizens within a jurisdiction – regardless of individual income or ability.
In a free market economy, public services have non-financial aims and exist solely to improve the quality of life of the population. In a bid to overcome social injustice, they are freely available to all, with public opinion directly informing changing policy. Public services must constantly evolve to meet the needs, desires and demands of modern civilian life.
From frontline key workers to central and local government administrators, agencies and public bodies, the infrastructure of the public sector is vast, with 5.7 million UK workers employed in rewarding roles with real-world impact.
What are the key examples of public services?
A government’s department of health leads, shapes, and funds healthcare. Acting as ‘guardians of health’, public sector workers at the top level oversee the legislative, financial and administrative frameworks to deliver quality and quantitative public health schemes.
Staff work with ministers, various national health authorities and clinical commissioning groups (made up of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals) to inform and improve healthcare policies that meet government objectives – such as reducing health disparities and providing sustainable care.
In the UK, the Department of Health is also responsible for the National Health Service (NHS) and emergency medical services, such as ambulances and search and rescue. The National Health Service (NHS) is the UK’s biggest recruiter within the public sector, employing over 1.86 million practitioners overall.
Public service workers on the frontline range from clinicians and general practitioners to paramedics, but public health services branch wider than access to hospitals and medication to the regulations of healthcare – including quality control – and care services for the elderly.
In addition to the emergency medical services, the United Kingdom’s core emergency services include the police force and fire service.
This area of the public sector is overseen by the Home Office and staffs around 270,000 workers – including civilians in frontline roles.
In the UK education system, state schools are funded by the government and are free for all pupils to attend. Key public service workers include teachers, school managerial staff (such as headteachers) and support staff. The responsibilities of the Department for Education extend beyond the immediate classroom and include:
- Administrating higher and further education, developing apprenticeship schemes and managing school or college finances, including funding for academy schools
- Informing the national curriculum and overseeing exams, testing and assessments – including school inspections
- Working alongside social services in safeguarding children and providing support services for young people
Social services are in place to provide vital support and care for the safety and welfare of the community, ranging from child protection, securing housing, sourcing job training for no and low-income workers and youth work to the sustainment of helplines, assessments and key advocacy work.
Key workers such as carers, social workers and probation officers enact positive change and provide an invaluable service to the most vulnerable members of society.
What are other examples of public services?
There are numerous moving parts to a safe and functioning society. The public sector comprises a vast variety of departments and factions that extend far beyond the core pillars of healthcare and education.
This non-exhaustive list includes:
Agriculture: Managed by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs,
public services comprise production, food quality and security, and providing support for rural food, farming and fishing communities.
Arts and culture: Typically overseen by an arts council, this area of the public sector preserves culture, including the funding of public events and schemes and protection of heritage buildings, museums and libraries.
Defence and armed forces: Encompassing the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force, these public services are managed by the Ministry of Defence and aim to protect people, secure territories and support national interests.
Infrastructure: Spanning roads and railways to electric grids, telecommunications, water supply networks and waste management, these public services support the physical function of households and firms and are essential in enabling and enhancing societal living conditions.
Justice: From courts to counsel to correctional facilities, these public services are headed by the Ministry of Justice, who work with numerous other government agencies (including HM Courts and Tribunals Service, Office of the Public Guardian and Youth Justice Board) to advance the principles of justice, protect the community and reduce reoffending.
Public transport: Ranging from buses and trams to long-distance rail services, staffing and sustaining public transit is another public service – in addition to the regulation of private sector transport, such as airlines. Public transit directly impacts numerous government agendas, including reducing carbon emissions and improving air quality.
Other examples of public services include postal systems, the recreational management of public parks and pools, and practitioners working to improve the public realm including urban planners, who work in the design and development of our cities.
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