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The public sector of the future

The University of Exeter is involved in one of the largest comparative public administration research project ever undertaken.

Professor Oliver James in the department of politics, together with researchers at other leading European universities, will participate in a €2.7m European funded programme of research investigating the impact of public service reform and assessing the prospects for the future.

The project team will meet formally for the first time in Berlin on 25th January 2011. The research asks: Has the public sector become more economic, efficient and effective? What can be done to improve the public sector, especially in a time of financial constraint?

Exeter is the lead institution for the section of the project focused on citizen satisfaction, choice and voice in the public sector. The research will focus on citizens’ attitudes and interaction with services. In recent years, reforms have sought to increase user choice and voice, and to extend private provision and competition in public services.

Professor James explained, “Changes have created raised expectations, but what has actually happened, in the United Kingdom, and elsewhere in Europe? Our section of the project will be questioning whether all citizens benefited in the same way from the government reforms and what the major success stories are. We will also identify the areas that need improvement, and examine how the financial crisis may impact on citizens’ interaction with public services.”

The research will make use of an opinion survey among the residents of 27 EU member states, as well as government statistics and reports. In the second year, 3,000 top level public servants in 10 European countries will also be interviewed. Finally, the research will develop scenarios for the future of the Public Sector in Europe in collaboration with an international group of experts and policymakers.

The overall research project is coordinated by Erasmus University Rotterdam’s Public Administration Department. The possible tension between short-term efficiency and social cohesion is a theme that is likely to be raised in the overall research. Professor James added, “One criticism levied against recent changes in the public sector is that the aim of realising savings and efficiency leads to a fragmentation of policy and to greater social inequality. Ideological arguments often monopolise the debate on both sides and a sound empirical foundation is often lacking. This project will take an independent look at the issues, survey the current state of knowledge and undertake valuable new research”

During 3.5 years, over 25 researchers in eleven universities in ten countries will collaborate on the eight sub-projects involved in this research. The research is financed as a Collaborative Project by the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Commission. The European Commission is investing €2.7 million in this COCOPS (Coordinating for Cohesion in the Public Sector of the Future ) Project as part of its research into ‘The Public Sector of the Future’.

Date: 25 January 2011

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