Luke Blair: Private/public antagonism is not helpful

When times are hard and money is short, friction and pressure and conflict are often the outcome - whether on the streets of the city, between competitors, among organisations, or among sectors.

Luke Blair: A culture of 'them and us' is developing
Luke Blair: A culture of 'them and us' is developing

This is particularly true of the public and private sectors. The interface between the two appears especially tense when public funds are short, firms are chasing their bottom line ever more urgently, and many are going to the wall – in both sectors.

The profit motive, which during good times is indulged as a sign of prosperity, somehow becomes an unacceptably ugly face of greed during recession. Those with high salaries become demonised. Those with wealth are suddenly selfish.

Equally the desperate dive into ever deeper public debt is seen as the final failure of imagination, the last resort when all attempts at innovation have failed, taxpayers money the ultimate bailout, a crutch used by people who have never made a penny themselves.

The gulf between these two pillars of rhetoric poses particular problems for communicators.

It creates a culture of ‘them and us’ and turns what might during better times be a mutually beneficial public private partnership (now there’s a phrase…) into an antagonistic relationship torn between profit and altruism.

Private firms moving into public territory are described in more suspicious terms than usual.  National treasures like the NHS are once again seen to be under siege from the ‘privatisation’ agenda.

Chief executive salaries creep up newspaper copy as if by osmosis to once again take their place in the second or third line of an intro.

Even the old sting of getting private consultancy firms to admit how much access they can gain to publicly elected representatives has been in use again.  

The fact is, none of this rhetoric of extremes is helpful. Neither the public nor the private sector, nor the organisations or communicators who manage their culture and language, emerge well from taking opposite sides of the dynamic and slinging mud at each other.

Because private and public will always need to work together, to collaborate and pool ideas to solve the biggest problems, nowhere more so than during the deepest, darkest days of recession.

And the media – which is hardly emerging from the last few months covered in glory – should bear in mind that economic confidence is as much the responsibility of those who write about it as those who hold the purse strings.


Luke Blair is a director at London Communications Agency

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