Private and public must both be made good

Public sector bad, private sector good?  What rubbish! Both are good.

Often the tone and culture of policy allows all manner of narrow and silly opinion to gain traction. One of these is the idea that private sector and the freeing up of markets is all good and the public sector is ‘in the way’, expensive, fuelling a dependency culture and filled with time-wasting processes and bureaucrats.  Perhaps this gung ho rhetoric was more common a few years back and is now in abeyance, but it should now just disappear entirely.  It has no place in sensible policy debate.

You don’t have to travel far in the world to find locations where the public sector has or is ‘out of the way’.  I’ve been there.  In the absence of any regulation you get exploitation. With poor harnessing of private wealth creation through ineffective tax systems you get no or poor public services.  With little commercial sense of duty and responsibility to local people and place you get a degraded local environment and exploited workers. Also, in this private sector, neo-liberal public sector, ‘out of the way’ culture, business often races to the bottom, goes bad and often leaves.  After all who wants to do business in a place of poverty and degradation? Even if you helped to cause it!

No, the public sector is part of the solution.  It must not ‘get out of the way’. It’s wrong for UK plc, wrong for local places and economically and socially dangerous.  Without the range of existing public inputs to business, business would die on its knees. Like it or just lump it, both public and private are connected in place.

At a recent conference, I highlighted CLES’s work on place resilience  and how public and private were both good and made a rallying call for a greater recognition for new and deeper connections and relationships between local government and business.  After my speech, a delegate to the event came up to me and whispered, drawing me in: ‘Look, some of the biggest public sector scroungers have been the businesses. They are just as bad as anyone on (welfare) benefits.’

He was a business owner, employing 50 people. Startling? A load of nonsense? Well, let’s not forget about the bank bailouts or, locally, how much regeneration money was often lavishly spent on the private sector, creating a dependency.

No matter though.  What has gone has gone.  But right now politicians and commentators need to cut out the crude language and turn down the heat.  The Heseltine review clearly gets this important connection between an activist state and private sector.  We must start now to develop deeper relationships between the local public sector, unions, local businesses and chambers of commerce, forging better places and creating fulfilled employees and workers.

It’s obvious – we should be all in this together and both private and public must be made good.



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Donald Stavert
Donald Stavert
11 years ago

Well said our Neil a good contribution to the ongoing conversation on public sector services … there is a distinct hint of change in the perceived wisdom

Mike Chitty
Mike Chitty
11 years ago

I would contend that neither public nor private sector are good or bad. They have the capacity for both, and every institution in both sectors tends to be made of both shadows and light. The challenge is not good or bad but the ability to change as quickly as the changing context demands demands. I personally am fed up with councils employees saying ‘we know that the world is changing quickly – but we are turning an oil tanker…’. Does this make them ‘bad’ people? Of course not. Does it mean that they let themselves and their colleagues ‘off the hook’ for the brave, courageous and innovative decision-making? Yes it does. And this does not making them bad. Just increasingly impotent and irrelevant as more nimble players in the political and social economy out manoeuvre them.

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