Public Sector: No more faceless bureaucrats here

Last week I had a strange case of identity fraud. It was not someone stealing my bank account details. It was The Independent. According to its front page, I was an 'unaccountable civil servant'.

A colleague pointed out that it was a - marginal - improvement on 'faceless bureaucrat'. It is also not the worst I have been called.

In my former career as a journalist, I was one of those 'feral beasts', as Tony Blair called us at my former stamping ground of Reuters. There was the former cabinet minister who called me a 'vulture'. So at least I have risen above the animal kingdom.

But it did rile me to see public servants labelled 'unaccountable'. The number of Freedom of Information requests public services are faced with these days is astonishing.

'Unaccountable public servants' is an easy stereotype to peddle. It just misses so much of what we actually do. The Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell has for years been saying we need to do more to celebrate and promote the professionalism of public servants.

At the end of November, both O'Donnell and Gordon Brown were at an awards ceremony for the best of the civil service. It didn't make The Independent. But the dedication on display was fantastic.

Some of the awards, such as helping the long-term unemployed, showed how public servants can make a real difference to ordinary peoples' lives. Others, for example campaigning to combat human trafficking or inventing a device to locate roadside explosive devices in Iraq, were literally life-saving.

In my department, the Department for International Development (DfID), it can be hard to make what we do real to those who haven't seen our work in developing countries. But a campaign to tell the stories of DfID staff in local newspapers has been really successful. Explaining that a former runner from Burnley has taken up the sport again in Ethiopia to help get girls into school brings it home.

We need to get out more and tell the story of what public servants do.

Paul Mylrea is director of comms at the Department for International Development

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