Futuribles Journal n° 287


Moderniser l'État, moderniser le service public


A reform of the public service is one of the major challenges facing France at the beginning of the 21st century if the country is to rid itself of its excessive bureaucracy, centralism and corporatism.
Bernard Brunhes examines what has been done in other European countries, in particular Britain and Sweden where effective reforms have been launched, and identifies several factors needed for success. He argues that these countries started from a simple idea: "a public service is a service to the public"; this focuses on the relationship with the consumer-citizen and client rather than with the user of public services. In the light of the successful experiences abroad, he says, there needs to be a change of approach in France, with above all an emphasis on devolution and decentralization. Today, as the process of providing services becomes increasingly complex, decisions must be taken as close as possible to the point of delivery.
In addition to these two main approaches, reforming a public service also involves communication. This means communicating via the hierarchy -the driving force for all change- but also via the unions and not in spite of them. As for direct communication, both internal and external, it must be able to transmit messages, register what people want and not err in favour of prudence out of fear of annoying civil servants.
Above and beyond these recommendations, the changes in the way political/administrative arrangements operate in the European Union calls for a new style of public governance. Among the reforms that would be desirable, Bernard Brunhes stresses the importance of increasing, on the one hand, the partnerships between public authorities and private entrepreneurs and, on the other, the interactions among the various actors concerned since he is sure that the public administration can no longer take decisions alone and must no longer govern alone. It is also important to draw up, collectively and democratically, new rules of the game and, finally, to foster the role of the voluntary sector in order to cope with the demands of the consumer society and sustainable development.

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