Supporting The Public Sector of United Kingdom



Public spending on education was 5.4 per cent of GDP in 2008. There are 12 years of compulsory education starting at the age of five. Primary school comprises six years and secondary seven, with cycles of three and four years. The Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish and English schooling systems follow different curricula, with Scotland having its own school-leaving exams. According to the higher education admissions service, UCAS, there are more than 300 institutions providing higher education courses, including universities, colleges of higher education and further education colleges.

Aside from the many privately run fee-paying schools in the UK, there are numerous opportunities for private companies to become involved in the state school sector, with contracts available for everything from providing school dinners to running school buses. Services that are contracted out vary from one local authority to another. Some new schools have been built using public–private partnerships to construct and manage the buildings.



Public spending on health was eight per cent of GDP in 2010. The National Health Service (NHS) provides free health care, paid for mainly through general taxation. Alongside the NHS, there are networks of private health care providers funded by medical insurance, with BUPA being the biggest. Harley Street in London is traditionally the home of private doctors and psychiatrists. The NHS is increasingly sourcing out its services to private suppliers in a controversial scheme brought in by the current coalition government. The NHS Support Federation reviewed a sample of 57 NHS contracts that were awarded between April and December 2013 and found that two thirds had gone to the private sector. However, most clinical care continues to be provided directly by the NHS.



There are 398,350 km of roads, 100 per cent paved, with motorways accounting for some 3,500 km. There are underground railway systems in London (‘the Tube’) and Glasgow. Liverpool and Newcastle have metro-like systems. Several light rail systems were built during the 1990s.

Airports: London’s international airports are Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and City Airport. Other major international airports are Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow. There are more than 150 civil aerodromes. Heathrow, Southampton, Glasgow and Aberdeen airports are operated by Heathrow Airport Holdings (HAH), formerly the British Airports Authority, which was floated on the stock market in 1986 as part of the government’s drive to sell off national assets. HAH is now owned by a consortium led by the Spanish-based Ferrovial. Manchester Airports Group, owned primarily by the ten metropolitan borough councils of Greater Manchester, operates East Midlands, Bournemoth, Manchester and Stansted airpots.

Rail: The world’s first passenger steam railway (the Stockton and Darlington Railway) began operation in Britain in 1825. By the 2000s there were 16,321 km of railway. Britain’s railways were privatised in the late 1990s – having been nationalised in 1948 – in what must surely be the most complex arrangement in the world. Under EU law, responsibility for the tracks was split off from the running of the trains, with infrastructure initially privatised, but now back in state hands under Network Rail. The old state-run British Rail was entirely dismantled, with the rail network split into different regions and contracted out as more than 20 separate franchises, many of which have ended up in the hands of the international arms of other country’s state-owned railways, such as Deutsche Bahn and SNCF. While privatisation has brought much-needed investment in trains and infrastructure, the cost to the state of subsidising the railways has increased significantly and rail fares are now the most expensive in Europe. Train operating companies are regulated by the Department of Transport. Network Rail is regulated by the Office of Rail Regulation.

London Underground, which runs the Tube in the capital, remains in the public sector. Two public–private partnerships were put in place in 2003 for maintenance of the Tube’s rolling stock and infrastructure, but both ultimately collapsed. The PPP arrangements failed because, despite complex contracts, it was never entirely clear whether the contractor or London Underground should bear the financial responsibility for infrastructure problems and some of the maintenance issues that arose.

Ports: There are about 100 commercially significant ports and several hundred small harbours. The main ports are London; Dover; Tees and Hartlepool; Grimsby and Immingham; Southampton; Liverpool; and Felixstowe. Forth, Sullom Voe (Shetland) and Milford Haven mostly handle oil. Private companies run most ports – APB operates ports at 21 locations in England, Scotland and Wales, including Southampton, Cardiff, Hull and Ayr. Hutchison Ports, a subsidiary of a multinational conglomerate, operates Felixtowe, Harwich and London Thamesport.

Buses: Once run by councils, local buses services are now tendered out, with First and Stagecoach dominating the field. Long distance buses are also privately run, with National Express being the market leader.