What is a public service?

Having looked at the new GOV.UK website, which pulls together various UK government departments in one place, I decided to compare it to what the Americans are doing. The British site looks great and, certainly on first look, seems well laid out and works smoothly with access to the right range of central government departments – or so I thought.

The American version of the same sort of thing (USA.GOV) is quite different. Whilst it does the links to departments/states it also offers access to other things that blend public and private services. The thing that is really interesting is the prominence it gives to what to these British eyes seems unconventional. From the first page one of the tabs is Get services, second menu item is Find Cheapest gas prices and the next one down is Shop government auctions. The gas prices one provides links to a range of local websites that have crowd sourced the latest petrol prices in every state. The Shop government auctions link is even better with opportunities to buy all sorts of weird and wonderful things from aircraft to filing cabinets.

I guess many would argue that saving them money on running their car or on buying government surplus is a public service, albeit in some cases delivered via a private site. It set me thinking that we need to think really broadly about what is a truly public service as opposed to just a publicly paid for service.

Some people baulk at the way organisations such as the BBC and the Ordinance Survey operates, making money from their assets. As a result councils and Whitehall departments tend to keep their heads down a little when it comes to making money and leveraging the value of their real estate, be that physical or virtual. When we as a council auctioned off some car parking spaces on E Bay recently we were mocked in the local paper. Our use of E Bay for some premium allotments will doubtless raise a similar outcry over the next few months.

But in difficult times properly pub-vate (or pri-blic…) services must be the way to make ends meet for many conventional public service providers. If that adds value to citizens through lower taxes and better services then isn’t that a win-win?

Anyway I am off  now to work out how I get together a $10,000 deposit to bid on a mildly hail damaged military spec Lear jet currently stranded in Tiblisi….God bless America!


About iansthoughts

Chief Operating Officer at DEFRA, and former council Chief Executive. All views expressed are my own and not formal policy of my employers current or past.
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