Re: There are some people that the
The biggest problem — in my opinion, obviously — is the (mis)management problem in the public sector. The current government (and even some in Labour) has a mantra for the public sector: Privatise. Privatise! PRIVATISE!!!!
Under ideal conditions (I'll come back to that later), the only real ways for a private company to be more efficient than a public service is by having a "secret sauce" that cannot be implemented by the public service, as the private company — all else equal — needs to pay its owners/investors/shareholders on top of the expenses for delivering the service. A private company should thus be less economical than a comparable public service. For pure services it is very hard to have a "secret sauce" as there is only so much you can do to be more efficient without somehow entering the realm of exploitation or fraud. When a doctor needs to see his patients and there are few ways of doing it more efficiently than it is currently done, whether it is a privately employed doctor or a publicly employed. You can obviously try to automatise some of the processes (remote visits by webcam, electronic records, automatising administration, ...) but those are not in the "secret sauce" realm as they are equally available to private companies and public services.
So, when getting down to the basics, the main (only?) reason public services seem to lag behind private companies in efficiency seems to be a matter of proper leadership ... or rather a lack of it. My partner is a public employee and I have had a few, miserable years there too. Miserable exactly because of the poor management and the huge management pyramid (think about it, it starts with a minister, via civil servants, going on in maybe ten layers or more). Management in the public service is often farcical, even beyond the "Yes Minister" level. Unfortunately I know this first hand as I still work for public services, though now as a contractor, which has its benefits as long as I am not hit by IR35.
And, coming back to a more direct response to your post, most Union Reps are doing a good job (disclaimer: I was a union steward for several years) ... within their abilities. Union Reps are mostly just elected from within the people working in the organisation, i.e. with not specific knowledge of all the intricate aspects of the law, apart from what training they receive, and they are mostly dealing with everyday problems like bullying, harassment, grievances, policy issues, ..., not how to actually improve the services. The people higher up in the organisation will partly deal with efficiency and management issues but their remit is really to improve the conditions for their members, which often boils down to a matter of getting them as much money as possible.
So yes, there is a lot that could be improved and it is mostly by managing the public services better, which would reduce waste and thus cost. And the ideal conditions are therefore a public structure with few, efficient management levels and a public workforce that understands that they have to deliver the best possible service at the lowest possible cost without compromising their own income and well-being.
Oh, and regarding the work ethics of public workers, I have met and impressive amount of people that go well beyond what could rightfully be expected of them, often helpful to a fault (especially within the health sector). I have also met people that were overzealous and went beyond the reasonable without any consideration of the people they are serving (Public Servants, remember!) — HMRC and DWP are you listening?
Oh dear, that became a long rant.