Government response

Dispelling myths and stereotypes about public sector workers

Ian Watmore, Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office, has written a letter to the FT dispelling civil service stereotypes.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

25 February 2011

Ian Watmore, Chief Operating Officer and Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office, has written a letter to the FT dispelling the myths and stereotypes about civil servants.

Read the letter

Sir, I read Brian Groom’s report (February 21) on the perceived limited employability of public servants in the private sector with great dismay. As one who has worked for 25 years in the private sector, and now six in the public sector, my message is simple.

If you are looking to hire into your company, forget the myths and stereotypes, you will get a great recruit from the public sector.

Why do I say that? Because I cannot think of a single skill that one needs in the private sector that people don’t develop in spades in the public sector.

Operational management? What about running a prison of sex offenders. Technology skills? Nothing comes close to the scale and complexity of the tax and benefit systems. Commercial skills? Have you ever let a contract for a science facility that accelerates electrons to near light speed? Customer relations? We serve everyone from the young and old, rich and poor, ill and healthy. Turnarounds? A failing company is one thing, a failing secondary school on a sink estate is quite another. Mergers and acquisitions? Try taking over a collapsing bank in a weekend. Human Resources? Just imagine what is involved in sending civilians to Helmand province. Security? I’d have to shoot you if I told you what our security services do on a daily basis, but, trust me, we are lucky to have them. Public relations? Well, we are always in the Thick of It!

Even business development is hugely in evidence as civil servants promote Britain’s interests abroad, or work in successful trading funds such as the Ordnance Survey or Companies House.

Public servants manage complex, multi-billion-pound businesses - indeed, my last job oversaw an annual budget of £20bn. It is this level of challenge that continues to attract the best graduates every year. Latest figures show that more than 22,000 people showed interest in just over 600 Fast Stream jobs.

In my six years I have managed staff in Norwich and Newport, Sheffield and Scotland, Warrington and West Midlands, Liverpool and London. I am proud of every one of them, for the unsung successes they achieve, and the family and national crises they avert. I learnt much in my 25 years in business, but I continue to learn so much in the public sector too.

Many former civil servants can be found in FTSE 100 companies at all levels. Only this week, one of my most senior managers is leaving to join a renowned multinational committed to innovation and technology. This should be no surprise. The civil service has invested heavily in increasing its professionalism and now compares favourably when independently benchmarked with the private sector.

As the public sector shrinks to balance the budget deficit, we are letting go many talented people, for whom the job itself is as much the reward as the remuneration.

So please, forget the stereotypes, and join the ranks of the enlightened companies that are hiring people from the public sector. They will give you a great deal in both senses of the phrase.

Ian Watmore,

Chief Operating Officer,

UK Government

Permanent Secretary, Cabinet Office

Published 25 February 2011