Select Committee on Public Administration Seventh Report


80. An ethos is about culture. As such, it is fundamental to any organisation, and to how the people who work in it feel and behave. It can be a priceless asset (or, if negative, a fatal curse). Although the main focus of public service reform is on new structural and financial arrangements of various kinds, the question of ethos must never be lost sight of. Indeed, it should be the reference point for everything else.

81. Here the public services have a considerable and intrinsic advantage. When someone describes him or herself as a 'public servant', it is testimony to the power of an ethos. People do not describe themselves as 'private servants'. In the wake of a tragedy or catastrophe, the qualities of service displayed by public service workers are routinely remarked upon. Yet this ethos of service is (or should be) only the most striking expression of a wider public service culture.

82. Yet this is not always so. Sometimes public services, and those who work in them, fall short of what a public service ethos should properly consist of. Rhetoric can conceal reality. That is why we see such an ethos as both intrinsic to the idea of public services but also as an aspiration that has to be realised in practice. A public service ethos is only as good as the service it delivers. It is not enough to celebrate it in the abstract; it has to be given concrete expression in the way public services work for the citizens who use them and depend upon them.

83. That is why our emphasis here has been on the need to nourish and cultivate the ethos of public service. This becomes even more important as public services are delivered in new ways by new providers. It is imperative that the public service ethos, as we have described it here, is concretely built in to the evolving shape of public service provision. We have suggested some ways in which this might be done. The public service ethos should not be seen as an echo from the past, but as an indispensable ingredient of any public service deserving of the name.

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