The Ills of the public sector

My girlfriend works in the public sector, and for the last year and a half, I’ve had an interesting insight into the inner workings of a government-funded organisation. She works for a company that is tasked in giving direction and career guidance to students aged between 11 and 16 both in schools and in local communities. And she hates it.

One of the main issues with her job is the lack of work ethic her colleagues display. In the private sector, if you work hard and are successful, you get rewarded. If you don’t, are lazy or are permanently ill, you are disciplined or further still sacked. Fair enough you may say. However in the public sector this is not the case, as many a time she has complained about people displaying minimum effort but reaping the same rewards as someone who has worked much harder. Many times she has come back from work having to cover the shift of someone who is off ill. This does little for her morale. Furthermore she is then tasked with covering the target of this absentee, despite her exceeding her own target without praise or any incentive to perform. As a naturally hard-working person, this can be extremely demoralising. Until recently, I thought this was a local issue with her organisation. However it seems that this is symptomatic of the public sector.

Her argument was compounded by an article we read recently in the Sunday Times. Apparently Sir Stanley Kalms, upon becoming chairman of an NHS hospital, threw a tea party for members of staff who had served for more than 25 years, as a reward for loyal service. However what he encountered was a motley crew of people who neither he nor other members of staff even recognised, as the majority were either ill, grotesquely overweight  or “no longer fit and proper people to be in a hospital”, but crucially were still being paid. Also because their packages had been negotiated in more profitable times, they were generally on better pay than the majority of their colleagues. In the example, this had repercussions for the hospital, as wards were left short-staffed and hospitals were without funds to purchase vital equipment. Reading this made me realise that the local issue my girlfriend had mentioned time and time again was  actually a more generic issue afflicting the vast majority of the public sector.

But the question has to be asked, why can’t they just sack these individuals? In every company I’ve worked in in the private sector, if you had a long period of illness that was unexplainable you would at least be disciplined. However in the public sector, the trade unions have a much larger sphere of influence. Again according to the Harriet Sergeant’s article, 61% of state employees belong to a trade union, compared with only 20% in the private sector. Their influence is not waning either. In 2006, Labour received roughly 73% of their donations from unions. This figure is thought to have increased during the subsequent recession, as the labour government relied further on donations..

Unfortunately there is no real way to rectify this, as any real resolution will need to be dictated from the top, filtering down through the system. And as we know, this could take years to implement properly. However there are positive signs. There is pre-election talk of the Tories disbanding government-funded organisations such as Connexions, with a view to giving this responsibility to privately funded companies with a similar ethos. This is part of a more macro trend, as the government looks to increase the number of projects they relinquish. One way they are doing this is by outsourcing. Serco, one of their key benefactors of government outsourcing, recently posted a 34% rise in annual profit, and they expect this to grow further. By giving as much responsibility, jurisdiction and control where possible to companies who understand from the ground up their industry in the private sector will only help to weed out the inefficiencies of the public sector to bring it into line.

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3 Responses to “The Ills of the public sector”


  1. 1 Dan Evans March 16, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    Reading this reminds me of a discussion I once had about how poorly our governement manage the public sector. It is a shame they can’t run it like a “real” company, where they care about the costs.

    It is more a situation where the government give each department their “pocket money” and it must be spent in that fiscal year. Hence the panic buying in the public sector towards the end of the fiscal.

    The worst story i heard was that a hospital was forced to pay £50 to have a light bulb changed, because they need the correct regulations.

    • 2 Carl Thomas March 18, 2010 at 9:19 am

      Thanks for the comment Dan. Having sold into the public sector myself, I also have come across the traditional March buying spree.

      I think that there is an inherent problem with the way the government deal with public sector issues, as inevitably the sector is run by politicians, as opposed to business leaders. This then leads to policies being implemented that have no basis in the real world, which in turn leads to many issues arising further down the line. For example, my girlfriend is targetted for every student she sees and gives advice too. Good if you want to funnel lots of students into the system. Bad for the quality of advice they give however. What it also means is that she gets more feedback from her management team when her numbers are low, as opposed to getting feedback on the quality of advice she hands out. Crazy!

  2. 3 tom daley partner June 7, 2013 at 10:07 pm

    Have you ever considered creating an ebook or guest authoring on other sites?
    I have a blog based on the same topics you
    discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information.
    I know my readers would value your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an email.


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