The public sector continues to contract in the major developed economies, primarily in response to economic pressures.
The scale and scope of that contraction is demonstrated by its effects on suppliers and on the citizens who consume public sector services.
In the former camp, the IT sector is one representative casualty.
Looking at the UK as an example, the number of IT staff in the public sector was slashed by the largest amount in 25 years in 2011, with the loss of 5,000 employees. This reflects rapidly falling demand as public sector organisations implement efficiency programmes designed to get more for less from all areas of their IT infrastructure through initiatives such as shared services, remote working, virtualisation, document management systems and self service1.
This last initiative – self service – also indicates some of the ways in which the age of austerity is already filtering through to the citizens who consume public services.
Just as the public sector itself is being asked to do more with less, the citizens it serves are finding that they must make do with less.
In some cases, much less.
According to some reports, for example, the UK Government is on a course that will mean Britain will have a smaller public sector than any other major developed nation within the next five years2.
These are pressured conditions and they are having a discernible effect on the relationships between governments, public sector organisations and the citizens they serve.
UK public sector Unions staged major protests over proposed changes to public sector pensions in late 2011 and there is the possibility of co-ordinated strike action in the winter of 2012-133.
In Ireland, with cuts precipitated by recession and the sovereign debt crisis, trust in government reached a record low of 10 per cent in 2010 and had only recovered to 42 per cent by spring 20114.
Clearly, even when the conditions for economic growth return, the nature and place of the public sector in developed economies is likely to be radically changed.