When people say “be more like the private sector”, I want to cry

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A relatively short post for me…. 🙂

I’ve been having a range of conversations lately and some if not most of them include an odd reference to the public sector budget deficit and how the public sector should be doing more things like the private sector.

Now I’ve tolerated those statements for a while because I know the people saying them don’t mean that we should be more like the private sector generally but expand on this and suggest very specific things such as a particular approach to something or how they invested in X and managed to get a great return on that investment.

However in a general sense, the public sector can’t be like the private sector whilst we still have a vast number of statutory duties to meet (over 1200), equality impact assessments to complete on service changes, effective consultation and engagement activities to conduct and of course managing all of this with a rapidly shrinking budget and with no billionaire investors waiting in the wings to bail us out with no hidden agenda other than maintaining the outcomes – unless you are a person who see’s outsourcing/commissioning as the being the same “bailing out”…for the record I don’t.

I’m not for a second suggesting that we can’t learn from other sectors, nor should we stop trying to reduce inefficiencies where they exist and transform services to deliver better outcomes. That is simply a no brainer now…So a plea – please stop making broad statements like “be more like the private sector” instead be very specific about what it is someone else is doing which you think the public sector can learn from. It would be far more helpful and constructive.

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10 thoughts on “When people say “be more like the private sector”, I want to cry

  1. Here! Here! I couldn’t have said it better, or shorter, myself. Even our finances are upside down and don’t stand the test of comparison with the private sector.

    Unlike a company, in very simple terms, local government already knows what money it has for the year and spends the financial year trying very hard to make sure it doesn’t over spend. A business only knows what it has to run the basic business, sometimes only from week to week or month to month, and then spends all of its time and effort trying to increase that amount of money to the point where it is not only able to continue running that business, but might actually start making a profit.
    Totally agree with the principle of making sure the taxpayer gets maximum bang for their buck as they say, but local government as a business? God forbid.

    • pferdy

      The private sector have invested in standards when companies think it is sensible for interoperability. The banks seem to have done it internationally for many consumer transactions. They have developed methods of sharing data for identity management. Look at the history of ISO 18876 to see how an interoperability standard was developed.

  2. Meiroz

    I get even more annoyed when someone says: “You know, I used to work for the private sector, and this task was done in a much better way there…” It’s as if we’re all blind and they’ve seen the light!

  3. I have been in the public sector now for a little over two years after working in the private sector for over 20 years. What I have noticed and what “those” people may be talking about is that in the private sector, process improvement is a constant. If there is a better way to do something, lets do it that way.
    When I was learning how things are done in my new office and I asked why a task was done a certain way, the response I always heard was, “That’s the way we’ve always done it!” Needless to say, I have changed many processes that had been around since 1960 and made them paperless and more efficient while meeting the needs of our responsibilities more effectively. Isn’t that our responsibility in the public sector? Don’t we have an obligation to make the most out of the tax dollars we are given to complete out duties?
    Don’t get me wrong, I do not miss the bottom line, the outsourcing, the executives making huge bonuses while you go backwords, etc. However, in some cases, the public sector needs to look at itself and the way things are done and be open to improvements.

  4. Carl, I think this was a fantastic article. I was so impressed I posted it on my Face Book page and highly recommended every local public official read it.

    So many times a person running for a seat on a County Board or City County would build their whole election campaign on “Vote for Me and I Will Run Government More Like a Business and Lower Your Taxes”. Alas once they were sworn in an understood their office – the became some of the most ineffective office holders – and made absolutely no contribution to the communities they served. Thanks again for a great article and with your permission I would like to post it — giving you full credit on my blog – Better Public Officials. Gabe Gabrielsen

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