Busting public sector myths

The image of inefficient, antiquated institutions groaning under the weight of bloated bureaucracy, wasting tax payer time and money, while the private sector gloats pompously from the wings and licks its lips is surely a bit hackneyed in this day and age.

We asked public sector professionals and recruitment specialists to paint the real picture and confirm or bust a few myths.

The public sector is regimented, stifling, old-fashioned and inflexible

Ben Cookson MAAT, accounting professional, schools finance department, Cheshire East Council

“Overall, I think this is unjust. Before working for the council, my opinion was similar to many others, in that the public sector was slow, cold and mechanical. In reality, the public sector landscape is always changing. Legislation evolves – quite dramatically sometimes – budgets change and people move from post to post quite often. It’s the nature of the beast. Governance in the UK would be much more effective if things didn’t change so often. For public sector workers like myself, this is a demanding environment and it can be frustrating.”

Lee Maidment FMAAT, senior finance adviser, Hampshire County Council

“This is totally untrue in my opinion. Yes, there is a defined process for getting decisions made within the public sector, which some may see as inflexible, but when decisions need to be made quickly to enable opportunities to be exploited then this certainly happens. The public sector is dynamic and is certainly not stifling, as it has to adapt to the ever-changing funding and legislative landscape.”

Bradley Glen, operating director, Page Personnel Finance

“New management styles have been introduced, new systems have been implemented to improve efficiencies and work practices alongside have mirrored this. Furthermore, flexible working is playing a bigger role in the public sector. Flexi-time is something that has been established for a while alongside generous parent/carer friendly initiatives and schemes.”

Verdict: myth busted – a challenging environment, but more advanced than many realise.

 The private sector is more efficient than the public sector

Lee Maidment

“This may have been true 20 years ago but the public sector has had to become more efficient as funding has declined since the recession. The public sector is having to find new and improved ways of providing services. It is having to be more dynamic and innovative when it comes to looking at ways of working and, as resources, including employee numbers, are cut, the statutory services still have to be provided but in a more imaginative way.”

Verdict: myth busted – the lower the funding the more efficient it needs to be.

No job security

Bradley Glen

“The old mantra of working in the public sector and having a job for life has changed. That said, it is still a very secure area to work in. You will not see government departments, the NHS or education going bust, and workers losing their jobs overnight as can happen in the private sector. For good staff, the opportunities are there to progress and develop one’s career as they are within any private sector organisation – you could argue that there is actually more opportunity due to the size and nature of the organisations and departments.”

Verdict: myth busted – perhaps more secure than the private sector… for now!

Low wages

Bradley Glen

“Although salaries can be slightly lower in some areas, with the intake of people from the private sector, salary levels have increased to attract ‘good quality’ staff. It is worth bearing in mind that salary inflation has been slow and low within the private sector over the past few years, so this, coupled with good benefits (e.g. attractive pension schemes), has seen the gap with the private sector become much closer.”

Verdict: myth busted – able to attract talent away from a struggling private sector.

You impede the public, not help them

Lee Maidment

“Again, totally untrue! While I don’t work directly with the public, the people who do work in frontline services live to help the public and actually take pride from serving the public, whether in a library, a social worker dealing with a family, or a school crossing patrol. I cannot think of any examples where the public sector may be seen to be impeding the public.”

Verdict: myth busted – simply untrue and unfair.

You can’t trust the government as an employer

Lee Maidment

“I would say that you can trust the government more as an employer than some companies. The public sector sticks to all the legislation regarding employment rights, protection of employees, health and safety etc. You know that if you work in the public sector then you will, generally speaking, be treated fairly and as an individual.”

Verdict: myth busted – bound by its own rules and not beholden to shareholders.

Public sector pensions are ‘gold-plated’

Lee Maidment

“Certainly in local government, the pensions are not gold-plated and it is a myth that they are paid for totally by the taxpayer. All employees within the Local Government Pension Scheme have to contribute to their pensions, the value of which has been eroded over the years as the scheme has adapted to make it more affordable.”

Verdict: myth busted – public sector pensions not what they once were.

Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.

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