Update this article: Export

Provision of Public Services

spatial development

Provision of Public Services (also referred to as services of general interests)

Rethinking the provision of public services and equivalent living conditions

Municipalities, towns and regions face great challenges due to growing social inequality  and increasing spatial polarisation with regard to the provision of and demand for infrastructures.The effects of demographic change and the dwindling financial room for manoeuvre in many places – particularly from 2020 because of the ‘debt brake’ which comes into effect then – are increasingly causing problems for maintaining the facilities needed to provide public services. Rural, sparsely populated areas and disadvantaged towns and urban neighbourhoods are particularly affected. Other current developments, such as the ongoing negotiations on international free trade agreements, harbour considerable risks for public service provision, which is the responsibility of and provided by local authorities and their companies.

Main Postulations

Illustration: Public services (image by Sophia Germer)
Illustration: Public services (image by Sophia Germer)

Provision of public services through co-production

The provision of public services refers to the securing of basic needs and the creation of possibilities  for  a  self-determined  way  of  life.  The  comprehensive  organisation  of  the  provision of public services can only succeed through the interaction of state and municipal authorities,  civil  society  organisations  and  private-sector  companies  (‘co-production’).  Development strategies only work when they involve the local population. However, there is a danger that local stakeholders may be overburdened by the increasing expectation that they will compensate for public services that are no longer provided by the state. At the same  time,  freedom  for  individual  responsibility  and  experiments  must  be  allowed.  The  public sector remains responsible for guaranteeing the provision of public services and for coordinating agreement between stakeholders.

Illustration: Public service provision (image by Sophia Germer)
Illustration: Public service provision (image by Sophia Germer)

Public service provision: a major challenge for all subareas

The provision of public services must be guaranteed in all subareas. This entails challenges, both in shrinking and in growing spatial categories. A polarising discussion which tries to play  off  problematic  situations  in  the  town  and  country  against  each  other  should  be  avoided.  In  subareas  characterised  by  emigration,  both  in  urban  and  in  rural  regions,  securing the sustainability of infrastructure presents a particular challenge. However, the settlement  of  immigrants  predominantly  in  peripheral  areas  is  not  a  solution  that  can  compensate for population losses.

Illustration: Input and Outcome (image by Sophia Germer)
Illustration: Input and Outcome (image by Sophia Germer)

Orienting public service provision more closely to the impact than to facilities

In the future, standards should determine not the input but the outcome of a particular area of public service provision. This enables responsibilities to be fulfilled in various ways, including through innovative means. Because of existing spatial and social differences, the impact of public service provision measures on individuals and groups is more decisive for securing equivalent living conditions than the configuration of material infrastructure. An orientation towards outcomes should also take into account the abilities and options of different social groups. The needs of the most vulnerable groups should be considered. This orientation towards outcomes requires an adjustment phase and must be introduced gradually, and be well-organised both politically and technically.

Illustration: Minimum provision (image by Sophia Germer)
Illustration: Minimum provision (image by Sophia Germer)

Ensuring comprehensive minimum provision to implement the objective of equivalence

The definition of comprehensive minimum provision, which must be maintained even under exacerbated  circumstances,  can  help  to  clarify  the  objective  of  equivalence.  Such  a  step  creates clarity and reliability for the populace as to what level of public service provision it  can  count  on  in  future,  and  is  therefore  a  basis  for  private  and  public  investment  in regions  and  neighbourhoods  suffering  from  economic  and  demographic  difficulties.  Such  minimum provision may include, for example, basic services in relation to fire and disaster protection, health, education, mobility, post and telecommunications. Conversely, in other areas,  such  as  water  and  energy,  it  is  possible  to  forego  equal  provision  in  all  regions  in  favour of decentralised solutions.

Illustration: Weighing up (image by Sophia Germer)
Illustration: Weighing up (image by Sophia Germer)

Unbiased discussion on abandoning settlement units

If,  in  future,  there  are  regions  in  which  maintaining  minimum  provision  reaches  its  limits (for  example,  in  remote  hamlets  and  isolated  farmsteads),  a  coordinated,  planned  abandonment of settlements cannot be categorically ruled out. However, this procedure must be weighed up against all the considerations about social and economic consequences for the public sector, territorial authorities, companies and private households. Preliminary considerations about the dismantling of settlement units require differentiated strategies for participatory implementation and for its financing – both in terms of public funding of facilities  and  subsidy  payments  to  individuals  –  as  well  as  on  how  it  would  be  organised. The public sector must take responsibility for this, in particular.

Illustration: Public services (image by Sophia Germer)
Illustration: Public services (image by Sophia Germer)

Tackling existing implementation deficits

The  current  instruments  of  urban  land-use  planning,  federal  state  and  regional  planning are not sufficiently exploited or consistently used. Decision-makers, in particular, must be enabled to deal actively with public service provision in shrinking regions and to have the courage to use instruments and initiate developments which may be uncomfortable today but are unavoidable for the future. This means securing sufficient staffing levels and quality personnel, as well as opportunities for the exchange of knowledge.


Elke Bojarra-Becker
Klaus J. Beckmann
Rainer Danielzyk
Peter Dehne
Markus Eltges
Heike Köckler
Anne Ritzinger
Gerd Schäde
Jan Matthias Stielike
Alexandra Tautz 

Mentioned articles

This thematic collection is based on the follwing position paper:

ARL – Academy for Territorial Development in the Leibniz Association (Ed.) (2021): Rethinking the provision of public services and equivalent living conditions – perspectives and fields of action Hanover. = Positionspapier aus der ARL 125.URN: http://nbn-resolving.org/urn:nbn:de:0156-010860

Download it here:

German version also available here:


Have your say!
Do you want to join the discussion?