For the best part of 30 years, we’ve been sold the idea that the private sector is leaner and meaner and in all respects the model of efficiency. Coincidentally, I started my professional career as a business analyst 25 years ago before moving to a more senior board-level role with direct responsibility for overseeing complex business transformation strategies for major blue chip manufacturing companies. My portfolio included some of the world’s best known aerospace companies but added to it were a couple of constabularies, a reflection of my previous experience as a police officer.
For the past decade, I’ve taken some of the architectural models that I developed within the private sector and applied them to enable transformation within the public sector, predominantly focused on enabling multi-agency partnerships. I’ve engaged with over 600 public sector organisations and 14 national governments across the world, so you might predict that I’ve seen the film and have several well worn T-shirts on the inadequacies of the public sector.
Yes, there are flaws in some organisations but there is no underlying reason for public to be worse than private. Actually, in many areas, the public sector is manifestly superior in terms of performance and service ethos when compared to the private sector and by and large the public sector is no worse than the private sector in terms of its capability to embrace change. However, the public sector shares the same ability as the private sector in being able to hamstring itself when strategic vision is replaced by short-term, top-down policy imposed without the empowerment of the people at the coal face. If there’s a move towards a clear sustainable strategy which everyone is bought into, poor management is easy to replace.
But don’t just take my word for it: Cardiff University’s Steve Davies, in a paper for Critical Social Policy, concludes: “It is simply not true that either the private or the third sector has a consistently better record . . . than in-house staff. Wherever (the public sector) has been allowed the same flexibilities and funding . . . it has been able to match, if not surpass, the performance of contractors.” Over a wider range of services, the Commons public administration select committee said it was “unable to corroborate” the government’s claim that the private sector does better.
In areas like customer service, I can tell you that when compared to the best of the public sector, private sector performance on a range of measurable outcomes is consistently worse. I have led seminars and workshops programmes for large private sector organisations that have woken up to the fact that the public sector has a lot to teach them. Sure, if you need some skills that you haven’t got, cast your net wide, and even change organisational structures if you need to attract highly paid individuals from the private sector but don’t assume that that is an indicator that the basic model of the public sector is wrong. It just isn’t. The private sector maybe meaner but it certainly isn’t leaner.
Just recently I managed to sneak into a Police and Crime Commissioner candidates’ briefing by Policing Minister Damien Green. I was expecting to be turned away but, ironically, there wasn’t any security. Early on into Green’s pitch it became apparent that he thought he was addressing an exclusively Conservative audience. He went on to tell Conservative candidates that he expected them to move forward with privatisation. No mention of assessing the service requirement or who might do it best, just a carte blanche declaration that will fill the boots of those companies that contribute to Conservative party coffers.
My track record under both Labour and Conservative governments of fighting the lobbied interests of suppliers has made me persona non grata inside the Cabinet Office and large parts of Whitehall but when I see senior civil servants and ministers manipulating government policy to the financial advantage of the few, I have to call it like it is. When I see bankers walking away from a £500 billion organised crime scam that some of us predicted to the FSA many years in advance, I realise that what is happening is a corporate coup d’état. This is institutionalised corruption on a grand scale.
So public versus private is a debate that should have been parked years ago. If Britain is going to rebuild its broken economy, its leaders are going to have to turn their backs on 30 years of myth and party political dogma and deliver coherent, long-term strategies that put people before profit.
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David Gale | Police & Crime Commissioner Candidate for Derbyshire | w: http://www.DavidGaleUK.org