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BBC TwoNewsnight
Last Updated: Thursday, 3 August 2006, 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK
The best public services in the world
By Sumant Bhatia


Newsnight's quest to find the Best Public Services in the World began with John Harris' report from Cuba on Monday.

Our next film looks at Portland, Oregon in the US, where they are turning their back on the beloved American car and ploughing money into public transport - cycle lanes an' all.

Viewers had already written in with their own suggestions and indeed Cuba did figure, with mostly positive comments about the way it trains its doctors and offers free treatment. I'm sure that Fidel Castro agrees at the moment.

As several people pointed out, the richer the nation the better its services are in general, so a special mention goes to nominations from emerging nations on top of Cuba, such as Venezuela. Alwyn Lloyd Simpson in London noted its services "are maintained for and on behalf of the public and no ambiguity".

India too gets a mention. Pete H in Manchester nominated its vast railway system: "the trains are not affected by leaves on the line or excessive sunshine".

Tommy Payne of Manchester also gave a glowing reference to China's law and order system. "I was extremely surprised to have my stolen mobile returned to me twice," he writes, "while a Chinese friend of mine had his camera returned to him, together with compensation from the person who took it, nearly one year after it had been taken!"

Good service

Overall the obvious countries garnered the most votes, with Scandinavia, Japan, Australia, Germany and Singapore recommended in most categories.

The best of course depends on your definition of good services.

Graeme Reid of Middlesex has a more "free market" viewpoint when he says "you will never find a government-run service ever consistently out-perform a commercially-run operation."

Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Cuba, Germany, Luxembourg, Monaco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, UK, US, Venezuela and all Scandinavian countries
Denmark, Finland, Japan, US, UK (tertiary)
Belgium, Cuba, Denmark, France, Greece, Israel, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, UK
Law and order
China, Japan, Singapore, US
Australia, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Netherlands, Singapore, Switzerland
Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, US

Many of you disagree, pointing out that private intervention in public services is un-warranted and divisive, especially in the United Kingdom.

Yet Mike Evans from Bath gave Singapore his vote for its mixture of public and private provision, and its individual welfare accounts which can be handed on to future generations.


Nicky Wilson in London is positive about the National Health Service: "not the most luxurious, but it is in the top 3 for efficiency." Richard Gladding in Matsue, Japan, says his adopted country goes one better, with citizens paying "a similar percentage of their GDP on healthcare as the UK does, yet the level of service is outstanding."

Indeed those often-used management words "efficiency" and "effectiveness" are cited by Rohit Handa as the reason he puts Scandinavian services top.

The biggest ringing endorsement of a service comes from Bertie Johnston, who lives in Belgium and says friends decided to retire there because of the quality of its healthcare.

Nick Tiliopoulis from Edinburgh had positive experiences while using Greek doctors and clinics, and Nick Vivian swears by the healthcare in Taiwan, where he's living at the moment. "I have national health insurance which costs me 10 a month and allows me to see a doctor at a clinic, a specialist at a hospital or even a dentist! No queues either", he says.

Paying for it

Best public services in the world logo
Where next in Newsnight's quest for the best public services?
The United States comes in for equal praise and protestations. Ex-pat Kevin Cromarty in Tampa Florida found almost all services better in the UK, as they were cheaper.

Yet Maria Johnson in London, among others, is a big fan of the US justice system, saying its "more harsh regime is effective".

Personally I would like to nominate Luxembourg (along with Monica Crown in Como, Italy), where I spent a very nice weekend recently. My cousin's wife (who works for a US bank) has just given birth: now she'll receive extremely generous welfare payments while she cares for baby Benjamin!

Her sister is even more fortunate: having recently started a government job as a care worker, she's now on paid leave, as she's two months pregnant: rules there mean state employees can't work in such a condition.

However the Luxembourg Government is now in deficit and some benefits may have to be cut, or taxes rise. And that's the gist of the argument: just how much are we willing to pay to have the best public services in the world?

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