Luke Blair: Loyalty to public sector being replaced by loyalty to self

Everyone is fighting for themselves out there in the public sector at the moment.

Luke Blair: focus has shifted to 'selling yourself'
Luke Blair: focus has shifted to 'selling yourself'

Trading on one’s reputation, built up over a career, is the name of the game and, understandably, public sector communications professionals are focusing very hard indeed on selling themselves.

Networking events held by any part of the sector – be it local government, health, housing, or other public services – are particularly busy, not to say feverish, places to be.

I won’t say there is an air of desperation out there, but there is definitely a certain urgency – after all, many public bodies have now been given a definitive date beyond which they simply won’t exist.  

There is nothing which focuses minds on the future quite like announcing the premature end of an organisation.

Really, there is no point in looking after the reputation of an organisation if that organisation itself is going to be scrapped.  

Once someone has decided that an organisation – and a reputation – is not worth saving, what can those who merely work for that organisation do?  

And who can blame those right on the frontline of protecting and enhancing that reputation for shrugging their shoulders, and deciding instead to focus purely on their own reputation?

Corporate loyalty is being swapped for loyalty to the self.  Or, as the Boomtown Rats once put it, 'I’m alright Jack – I’m looking after Number One.'

There’s just one problem with this. If everyone is taking care of themselves, who is actually minding the shop?  

What is actually going to happen when the entire public sector is full of nothing more than individuals who are single-mindedly pursuing their own careers without a second thought about the value they might add to the organisations they pass through?

For me, this is a problem.  I am a bit old fashioned. I believe that an organisation’s reputation is much bigger than the reputation of any one individual within it – even if that individual is the chief executive, or even the director of comms.

Parts of the public sector may come and go, be demerged and remerged, moulded and fragmented, and then all stuck back together again.  But it is still greater than the sum of all those different parts.

And the reputation of this rather valuable, rather British thing called the public sector now hangs on the behaviours of those currently leaving it in droves.  

So I dearly hope that, while councils continue to be criticised for high salaries, police forces probed for spending on speed cameras, and hospitals harangued for parking fines, there is one tiny little part of government – hidden deep inside Whitehall perhaps – which is protecting and nurturing a small beating heart on which the words 'public sector value' are still just about legible.

Luke Blair is a director at London Communications Agency

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