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Definitions of public service delivery

What are public services? Who is the public sector and what services does it commission? What is the difference between contracting, commissioning and procuring?

Public services are services which are funded with public money. Public services can be delivered by the state or on behalf of the state by voluntary and community organisation or private sector company.

Here are some of the common terms you will encounter in public service delivery.

Contracting, commissioning, procuring and tendering

Contracting involves earning income from payment for goods and services delivered according to the terms set out in a contract between an organisation and a third party known as a purchaser.

Commissioning means the entire cycle of assessing the needs of people in a local area, designing services, and then securing them.

Procurement covers the specific activities within the commissioning cycle that focus on the process of buying services, from the initial advertising through to the final contract arrangements.

A tender is a written bid outlining a supplier’s desire, capacity and plan to deliver a piece of work, service or supplies. Exact contents will be determined by the requirements outlined in the service specification and must demonstrate how a supplier will meet these requirements.

Tendering is the process of bidding and negotiating for a contract.

Who is the public sector?

Although often spoken about as though it is a single entity, the public sector is not a homogeneous body, but a series of sub-sectors and includes:

  • Central Government, and other Government agencies
  • The National Health Service (NHS)
  • Local Authorities (including Unitary, County, Metropolitan, Borough, District, City, Town and Parish Councils)
  • UK Government departments such as the Inland Revenue, the Department for Work and Pensions and departmental agencies such as Her Majesty’s Prison Service, the Learning and Skills Council and Jobcentre Plus
  • Key public services such as the UK Police Service, Fire Service and the Judiciary
  • Universities and colleges

The extent to which the voluntary and community sector will interact with each of these bodies will vary enormously. When researching potential purchasers of your services, it may be worth considering beyond the public sector organisations you normally deal with.

What services does the public sector purchase?

Public sector purchasing of services ranges from core local service provision (e.g. children's services, hospital provision) to specialist services (e.g. health services tailored to the needs of BME communities, training opportunities for socially excluded groups.)

Below are some examples of services purchased by the public sector:

  • Meals on wheels
  • Care for older people
  • Health treatment or therapies
  • Transport schemes
  • Community childcare facilities
  • Recycling schemes.