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Stop patronising public sector workers

April 13, 2011

Deborah Meaden’s top tips for finding a new job made me wretch. As a public sector worker for the past seven years I have found the depiction of public sector employees as lazy, over paid, under worked and frightened of the real world completely spurious.

Her Newsnight feature (surmised here) is a ghastly step by step guide to help us through ‘summer of redundancy’ because we have obviously been handed everything on a plate and are not capable of handling the competition of the tough private sector world. I haven’t read anything this patronising since The Famous Five.

"I'm better than you"

Apparently, private sector employers think we are ‘risk averse, want long holidays and short hours’ and are ‘waiting for that hangdog public sector attitude that some think exists’ so they can stuff our CVs in the bin.

Let’s start being real about what the public sector is. It is not middle management, it is not pen pushing and it is certainly not unproductive. I don’t think it’s fair to refer to firefighters, doctors, nurses, refuse collectors, social workers, teachers, lecturers, housing maintenance, environmental health officers, librarians, parking wardens, teaching assistants,  therapists, youth workers,  paramedics, caretakers, pest control officers, town planners and labourers et al as people who are ‘digging their heads in the sand’.

Not to mention the accountants, senior managers (who have budgets of tens of millions and 1000s of staff) and all the other support staff who help front line staff meet YOUR needs.

I will not deny that restructuring has not always gone to plan in the many industries that make up the public sector but if the private sector is going to criticise it should get of its high horse.  Strategic change fails pretty much ALL of the time. Any organisational development consultant will tell you this.

The private sector industries cannot be expected to come to the aid of the tens of thousands of sometimes highly specialised workers who will lose their jobs because of things money hungry people in the private sector did.

And the private sector cannot look at former public sector employees with a paternalistic attitude, thinking they are doing us a favour by ‘taking us on’. All this rubbish about our leave arrangements and pensions are to make the private sector feel less guilty about luxuries like Christmas bonuses, dividends, fridges stocked full of beer (it happens), limitless expenses and ‘petty cash’.

I’d like to see Ms. Meaden try a day in a housing benefits office, or in a van driving from blocked toilet to stinking drain, or maybe even a day collecting refuse that starts at 4.30am. I would like to see her do my job and balance the will of politicians with the will of my managers somehow with the wants and needs of my customers.

The subtle idea within this piece is that public sector workers are not fit for the private sector. Judging from the hard work, dedication and passion I have seen, I would say it is the other way round.


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