Public sector mounts strong defence against poor working practice claims

Leading figures in the public sector have hit back at claims that private sector organisations are better employers.

A debate between representatives from local government, unions and business at the Public Service People Management Expo in London last week turned combative after it was suggested that staff in the public sector should think more like those in the private sector.

Rod Aldridge, chairman of the CBI’s Public Services Strategy Board, said taxpayers could not choose their public services in the way they could private business.

“If you don’t like [a private sector provider] then you leave them and they go out of business – in the main the public sector doesn’t have to develop this kind of commitment,” he said.

Aldridge, who is also executive chairman of services firm Capita, said the public sector needed to concentrate on better training and management.

“Performance management that rewards achievement and addresses under-achievement is essential to success – whether in the public or the private sector,” he said. “Our experience is that the private sector is more focused on this than the public sector.”

Public sector staff need help through better accommodation, technology and improved feedback and incentives for their work, according to Aldridge.

“We need to regenerate people and make them proud of themselves,” he said. “They need to understand why they work hard – it will make them more receptive to the consumer.”

But Jan Parkinson, president of the Society of Chief Personnel Officers, defended public sector workers, insisting many were engaged in what they do.

“A lot of people who come in to work in the public service come in every day with a real sense of purpose,” she said. “We have to stop pretending the private sector has all the answers.”

And Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, said there were plenty of examples of private sector services that were awful.

“We have to get rid of the myth that the private sector is the guardian of sensitivity and customer focus,” he said.

Quotes from the conference

“I challenge the trade unions: Consider diverting some of your funds currently devoted to campaigning against private sector involvement in the public services to a project to promote good employment practice.”
Rod Aldridge, chair of the CBI Public Services Strategy Board, throws down the gauntlet

“It never rang except once when someone called to ask if her boyfriend Neil was there.”
CIPD president, Lord Wilson of Dinton, on his hotline to the White House when cabinet secretary

“The Unison claim against the North Cumbria Trust was the tip of a very big iceberg.”
Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, on the gender pay gap which could cost the NHS £100m

“It will be like throwing a duck at something; it is an animal that is not the most aerodynamic and has ideas of its own.”
Jan Parkinson, president of Socpo, on steeling yourself for the unpredictable nature of change programmes

“I have no doubt that public sector managers will have to be quicker on their feet if they are going to survive the next round of public sector reforms.”
Martin Tiplady, HR director of the Metropolitan Police

“Beware being too glossy, too corporate and too great in your recruitment literature.”
Ron Eldridge, consultant at TalentDrain, warns that a quarter of recruits leave in first six months because the job isn’t as promised

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