Who are we, why are we? and what do we cover?

Blog Post: When is a Public Sector Body not a Public Sector Body?

Nope, no punchline. However, among the many existential questions we ask ourselves on a semi-regular basis at Oscar, one of the bigger ones is; as a UK Public Sector data (see also solutions/software/research) company, which organisations should we be covering in our database(!)?.


This effectively poses the fundamental question of; meaningfully, what is ‘the public sector’ to us and our users and how different is that to the organisations that are owned by Public Bodies and/or involved in delivering public services? - highlighted this very month by the ONS reclassifying Further Education Colleges to ‘Public Bodies’, though they still retain their charitable statuses. So a Public Body and a Charity - nice and simple then!

Now, starting at the top is pretty easy. Government Departments and their Agencies - tick, all firmly in the Public sector bucket. But, what about the companies they own (or for extra fun own some of) that are involved in the delivery of Public Services - yep, that feels right enough, still owned - kinda- by the state, so let’s include those. Also some other nice curve balls like Prisons run by contractors - still a prison though, right?

Moving down through the spine of Government, again, simple - Combined Authorities, Local Authorities, Police and Fire Services, Town and Parish Councils - they definitely make the grade. Again though, some of these own companies who may (or may not entirely) deliver services to the public. Well, let’s be consistent and grab all of those then.

Outside of that core of Government it starts to become much more fun:

NHS - well, easy you might say, couldn’t be more intrinsically part of the UK state system….but then is it? Trusts and Health Boards - essentially QUANGO’s, these have their own non-exec boards for oversight, but are definitely Public Bodies (official, regulated - though somewhat contractors now in the case of England) - in the bucket they go. Primary Healthcare - lot’s of stuff going on in here: GP Surgeries (technically Private Partnerships - a small number of which deliver private healthcare only), but still primarily funded from the public purse and definitely providing public services under the NHS banner, so green light. Their federations and partnerships - probably better add those too as the connections might be significant. England - Integrated Care Boards - those are things (and now statutory orgs) so in they go. Sitting between these and GP Practices are Primary Care Networks - are these orgs? - not really as the name suggests - there again, how do we record them and the data for them? - cue current transition into listing these as orgs too…..sigh!

So that’s the NHS, but what about Healthcare more generally. Private Hospitals…..eek, right on the line there - even though some do contracted work for the NHS. That said, they are still Hospitals - and is the model completely dissimilar to NHS Hospital Trusts?....maybe we’d better have those. Dentists - mixed bag there - some NHS owned (phew), others/most, not - but again, most do some NHS funded work - in the bucket - and the rest that do private work only. Crickey, well as with other datasets, we can’t have partial coverage can we! (can we?) - so all of them it is.

Social Care - easy for Councils right and Care Homes owned by Councils and the NHS. However, what about the 90% chunk of Care Homes that are run privately or through the third sector. Yuk! - well, given a LOT of the beds are state funded, they probably should be in and if we’re going to record some of them, then maybe we should have all of them. Go on then!

In fact, at this point, a note on regulators is helpful; OFSTED/CQC et al. If they are inspected by the state for delivery of services to the public, then - perhaps - within the confines of Healthcare, Housing and Education - we should maintain all of them. Best consume regulatory datasets to check we have them all - nice chunk of extra work for the research team, another tick!

Speaking of - and segwaying nicely into Education (another bag of joy) - Council run schools and nurseries - big tick. Former and new state funded Schools out of state control (aka Academies), ummm, yep need those - as well as their parent Trusts (better had). Indy Schools - eek, well, we had the Private Hospitals and these are inspected by Ofsted, so bag ‘em. Colleges (as the first bit of this missive will demonstrate, many are now officially public bodies, so in the db they go. Universities - these are nice; some are - in fact - Public Bodies, others are Charities (why? - we’re not too sure), but we certainly want all of them if we have Schools and Colleges.

Finally (almost) Housing - well, more specifically, Social Housing (don't fancy maintaining a database of private landlords…..!) - a LOT of state owned Housing stock has been transferred out of the Public Sector in the past 20-30 years. There’s still more than 50% managed by Councils (already got those), but what about the ~45% not controlled by Councils that are owned/managed by Housing Associations - so, private companies (or charities) that provide - often state subsidised) housing and are regulated by the Government for the delivery of their services. Sounds like a case for all of those too then.


It’s interesting to note that - at the time of typing - there are now something like 1600 companies owned or partly owned by Public Bodies. We have added many of them before cos they were doing things like Housing, Leisure Services and other bits and pieces. We are currently in the process of adding the rest - having decided (this is new) that whatever they do, if they are owned by a state run and funded organisation, then we should have them. Furthering the idea that over the past 40 years we have moved from a Government Data Company, to a Public Sector Data company and culminating in the snappy new epigram we’re proud to wear; of “A Data company listing those organisations providing (funded in part or otherwise by the state and/or regulated by the state for their delivery of service) Public Services (mostly) across Health and Social Care, Housing and Education, plus Government.

Hence that existential angst!!


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