Provision of Public Services
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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