These are dangerous times for public servants. The recession is having a devastating impact on the lives and life chances of many employed in the private sector. In contrast, relatively few public servants are losing their jobs.
Their homes are secure and the public sector pension schemes, once derided as old fashioned with poor returns, are now the gold standard, offering a security many in the private sector can only dream of.
So it is a time to beware of the seven deadly sins, and in particular of envy, greed, pride, sloth and wrath.
Many in the private sector must envy those in the public sector. Some sections of the press will be ready to fan the flames. Hard working frontline staff can become fat cats in the light of prejudice and fear. The relative security of those in the public sector is made more obvious by the unprecedented investment in public services since 2001. Satisfaction at increased investment in health services and schools could easily turn sour.
Pride on the part of those in the public sector could also fan the flames. This is not a time for ostentatious displays of power or resources. Arrogance is a dangerous mindset.
“It is time to beware of the seven deadly sins, and in particular of envy, greed, pride, sloth and wrath”
Sloth could be disastrous if the public think laziness and inefficiency are being rewarded. Rigorous management of personal performance has never been more important.
Envy on the part of those not benefiting from public sector security could easily turn to wrath. The dangers faced by some frontline staff, revealed in the staff survey, could be increased by resentment over public sector security of employment.
Public servants, and in particular the well paid, can do five things to lessen the danger.
First, be aware of the issues and remember the plight of many of those who live around them. Sensitivity and awareness will go a long way. Second, work hard and be seen to work hard. Many in the public sector work in full view of the public. It is not easy to hide.
Make the best of public sector resources
Third, make the very best use of the vast resources. Nothing is more likely to provoke than waste and inefficiency. Public sector workers have been entrusted with a vast share of the nation’s wealth.
Fourth, take care in personal conduct, including expenses claims. If we need an example of how not to do it we have the rapidly developing farce over MPs’ expenses. It is not just staying within the rules that matters.
Last, everyone in the public sector needs to remember what they are for and who they serve. Providing the best possible service is the best defence against envy and resentment.
Excellence in public service will build support for public sector investment and make it more likely that public sector terms and conditions will be preserved, including pension schemes.
Those of us fortunate enough to be protected from the worst of the recession need to be grateful and careful. It is in our interest and it is the right thing to do.