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What Is the Public Sector?

Nations that support a public school system typcially do so without requiring students to pay tuition.
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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 August 2014
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The public sector is a term used to identify the portion of a nation’s economy that is focused on providing basic services to citizens through the framework of a governmental organization. While the scope of services classified as being in the public sector will vary slightly from one country to another, most will include any services that are freely available to all citizens, even those who do not contribute to the upkeep and maintenance of those services. This means that services considered within the public sector benefit virtually everyone, even those who do not directly make use of the service.

One of the most common examples of services provided as part of the public sector is law enforcement. Police departments are operated by municipalities, counties and parishes, and in some cases by states, provinces and even national governments. Protection of this type is provided for everyone living within or visiting the jurisdiction, regardless of whether they participate in taxation or other means used by the government entity to finance the function of the police force. This means that even if someone is not a direct victim of a crime, he or she is still indirectly receiving protection from law enforcement, making it possible to move freely through the area with relatively little fear of becoming a crime victim.

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Education is another example of a service provided in a public sector. Nations that support a public school system typically do so without requiring students to pay tuition or fees to take advantage of learning opportunities found in a primary education system. In addition, individuals who are not directly involved with the system still benefit from the presence of the schools, since graduates are better equipped to function in the community in terms of securing employment and participating in activities that help to improve the quality of life in that community.

The public sector also includes such important services as the armed services, the creation and maintenance of a public road system, public transit systems that serve larger communities, and in some cases healthcare that is provided for citizens who cannot afford to pay for private coverage. Even something as simple as street lighting within a municipality would be considered a service provided within the scope of the public sector. In all forms, the idea behind public sector services is to allow citizens to enjoy a higher standard of living than would be possible otherwise, thanks to the presence of those services.

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Discuss this Article

turquoise
Post 3

Thank you for the article.

Can you tell me what public sector consulting firms do? What do they consult the public sector about?

burcinc
Post 2

The public sector doesn't just run public service activities though. It can also engage in commercial activities and I think that in many countries, they do. What I mean by commercial activities is state-owned and state-run enterprises, like banks and businesses.

This is not something that most people approve of though. If you look at international organizations like the IMF and the World Bank and regional governments like the EU, one of their requirements for giving out loans and considering a country for membership is privatization of state-run enterprises. I found out recently that the reason for this is because it limits competition and it is not very efficient. The private sector runs businesses more efficiently, makes more money and encourages competition.

This is why it is not recommended for the public sector to engage in commercial activities. But some public sector services do gain financially, like the Post Office, for example. The U.S. Post Office is not privatized, it provides a public service and also makes money and that is absolutely fine. So there are some exceptions.

serenesurface
Post 1

Even though public sector services are freely available, I don't think that the public of most countries see it as being free, since all governments have some sort of taxation.

When I personally see the police or the fire department doing their job, I don't really feel grateful to the government for providing these services. I feel that it's the government's job to provide it since I pay taxes to them. So it feels like a right, not a privilege.

Perhaps living in a democracy, we have been taught from childhood that public sector services are provided by the government in return for taxes and having been elected. But in reality, there are many governments across the world, including democracies, that don't always have a working public sector. Maybe I should feel grateful for these services after all!

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