Public and private both have charms

After 16 years working in communications in Whitehall, I could not imagine how any other job could match the adrenaline rush of being at the centre of government.

However, after almost two years in consultancy, I have discovered that the private sector offers a stimulation that is equally intoxicating.

I have found delivering for clients as rewarding as delivering for ministers, if not more so. You know where you stand. They are equally as grateful, feedback is less ambiguous and generally issues get sorted more quickly.

Also being outside the confines of the civil service gives you room to be both more creative and proactive. You also have to prove that what you are doing works otherwise you lose the account.

To me the private sector feels more streamlined and self-sufficient in comparison with Whitehall's army of private offices that support ministers and senior civil servants. Despite this level of support it is surprising how often ministers get caught with their trousers down.

Of course, both the private and public sectors have their pressures. Generally government takes longer to make decisions but when the 'chips are down' it can move at amazing speed. In consultancy the trick is to make each account feel like your most valued client.

A particular problem for government is that it is too concerned about the 'Whitehall village'. Losing touch with reality is all too common - with departments being too inwardly focused. On the other hand, the private sector can be too focused on the bottom line.

Equally, civil service guidelines lack flexibility. I remember being told to return Christmas puddings that a supplier had sent as a gift. The absurdity was that the cost of returning them exceeded their value.

So while I have discovered that there is much to be admired about the private sector, there is nothing like a stint immersed in the rigours of the public sector to ensure you really appreciate the differences.

No more humbug - all gifts gratefully received (and most definitely non-returnable).


Jane Groom is a director at London Communications Agency

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