We’ve all seen what incredible things can be achieved when the public and private sector pull together in these difficult times: several Nightingale hospitals constructed in a matter of days, not months or even years. It’s an astonishing feat and not just from the contractor side of things (though hard hats off to all involved). Client-side it must have been incredible to get the necessary internal stakeholders together and agree sign off so speedily.
Which should maybe prompt us to look at what else we can learn from the public sector. In this instance, clearly time was of the essence but at other junctures is going about things with a more measured pace a better route? The public sector quite rightly has to justify its expenditure because it’s not about value for money for investors who have chosen to put their money in a scheme that’s at stake, but everyone who pays their taxes.
And that justification means being thorough about which companies the public sector works with in the first place. Once selected everyone involved in public sector projects is subject to rigorous scrutiny from a number of managerial layers on a number of occasions along the way. While some might see this as red tape, it’s maybe just a red flag to cutting corners. Perhaps this tortoise-like approach will teach us that haring off to be the fastest to construct a building or fit out an interior isn’t the only or indeed the best way to be.
The public sector can probably teach us a thing or two about diversity as well. While we see a lot of edicts about attracting and promoting a greater proportion of BAME workers in the CSR policies of the private sector, the statistics often tell a different story. If we take the construction industry, according to the outreach charity Business in the Community, only 3-4% of all construction managers are from ethnic minorities. Compare that to the 14% that make up those same groups in the general population, based on census information. Then let’s look at the NHS. There one in five workers were from non-white ethnic groups, clearly showing how diversity’s really done.
Those who previously viewed the public sector’s typically long tenure workforce who enjoy a greater number of days of annual leave with suspicion might take a different view now. In uncertain times, employers will perhaps see sticking around beyond the usual five years or less as a positive attribute among their staff – who wouldn’t want all that experience combined to face the challenges ahead? Also, organisations which are being seen to be kinder to the people they employ are the ones that are being lauded in our post-Covid world, not the ones which get away with the bare legal minimum.
Putting profit above all else just isn’t going to cut it for the private sector going forward. Between the various loan schemes, furloughing and other sources of public money, private sector firms are going to have to get used to more government intervention on their balance sheets for one thing. But more than that, those who buy goods or services from the private sector, whether consumers or commercial clients, will be looking at how purpose-led those organisations are in the future. What impact are those businesses having on people’s health and people’s communities? What resources do they take from the environment and what do they give back? In those respects (and more) the public sector is an example to follow and the convergence between public and private will continue. Together, as the Nightingale has shown, they’re an incredibly powerful force.