In 2013, the Hay Group, business and public sector consultants, surveyed 1000 public sector employees on their feelings about their work. 72% of them – nearly three out of four – said they did not feel proud to be working in the public sector. 43% wanted to leave their current employer and 70% said they were experiencing all-time low morale. There are other disturbing figures in the report. They caused a brief flurry in the media and then one or two articles started to appear casting doubt on the findings. Then it was conveniently forgotten.
It should not have been forgotten and government should have seen the report as a serious danger signal. These people who are unhappy in their work are the very people whose work should be satisfying. In general, they did not choose their career because it promised the greatest financial rewards; they chose it because they were looking for a satisfying and worthwhile occupation in which they could be of benefit to others. And we have deprived them of that satisfaction. Of course we ourselves, the patients and parents and citizens whom they should be looking after, are suffering too because they cannot put their hearts into their work.
The Hay Group report contained only a short series of answers to questions. It is one of those reports which management consultants prepare and issue to drum up business. Its findings might perhaps be questioned, if they did not correspond so clearly with one’s own personal experience. The report was based on 1,000 public sector employees working in local and central government, health and social care, and education. It did not cover the police or the military. Among those it did cover, the results were pretty consistent. For example, lack of pride in the public sector was most strongly felt among local government employees (77%). Among central government employees it is 71%, among teachers 71% and among NHS workers 67%. But these are trivial differences.
Perhaps the most interesting conclusion in the report is the sense one gets that public sector employees undervalue themselves and the importance of their role in society. This has not happened just because of bad public sector management, bad as that management often is. Their feelings reflect public attitudes, particularly among the business people who mainly support the Conservative party. We tend to disparage anything which is provided by the community free of charge, on the cynical business principle that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” The profit motive is not everything and financial incentives are not always the right ones.
Of course this is a very big issue, or many very big issues. The problems of the NHS are very different from those of the education service. The police are different again. But they all have this in common, that their problems probably shouldn’t be seen primarily in terms of money. The community needs to ensure that it is getting value for its money. And the oft-quoted remedy that efficient management should be brought in from the private sector is not necessarily the right one. Private sector companies operate within the disciplines of the market and the need to make a profit. Public sector management needs to be different. Take the NHS for example. My own experience suggests that some hospitals are run well and others very badly. The talent and experience is probably there within the existing pool of management – it’s just a question of making sure that the right people are put in the right positions and the management solutions that work best are copied elsewhere.
UKIP must take up the cause of the maltreated and undervalued public sector employees, not only for the very good reason that it is one of the major problems in our society, but also for the political reason that most of these people currently vote Labour or don’t vote at all.
If UKIP is to move forward and gain the power to decide government policy, we need to increase our appeal to disillusioned ex-Labour voters. Not all of these ex-Labour voters are working-class people in the old industrial areas; many are public-sector professionals, the people who read the Guardian. But to get their votes, we need to study their problems in more detail and – perhaps with their help – work out an approach to the right solutions.
UKIP ought to set up a UKIP Think Tank, to research policy options and recommend new policies to the leadership generally. Public sector morale should be one of the first issues to be investigated.
Perhaps, as a first step, members with relevant experience and/or expertise would like to write comments on this article.