Public Sector: Public sector job stampede

Public sector comms chiefs are seeing an increase in applications from the private sector, as PROs place a premium on job security.

As the recession bites, both central and regional government bodies are receiving applications from in-house and agency staff looking to make the switch.

Jobs and PR budgets in the public sector are viewed as relatively safe because the amount of funding allocated to councils and government departments is fixed until 2011, as a result of the last Comprehensive Spending Review.

Environment Agency director of comms Adrian Long said that he has more private sector people sending in their CVs 'on spec' - and that those CVs were more likely to come from the agency-side.

He added that a private sector shake-out could be a much-needed boost for the public sector: 'People experienced in marketing are really needed right now, so there is a lot we can learn from these people crossing over.'

The shift is also being seen in central and local government comms. Ministry of Defence director of news James Shelley said a recent ad for a press officer role had resulted in 250 applicants (see box). Westminster City Council director of comms Alex Aiken said: 'We are getting more speculative applications from private sector people who have been made redundant. We have had two this week. One was agency and one was in-house. It is unusual to get so many speculative applications.'

Aiken added that the public sector was now an attractive option for private sector workers who can see a much tougher climate on the horizon.

JFL Recruitment MD Ros Kindersley said that while public sector roles have accounted for 20 per cent of her business over the past month, she expects that to increase in the first quarter of 2009.

Kindersley said: 'The public sector has been a growing sector for PR recruitment. It has been stable, whereas in the private sector there has been quite a squeeze. I think it's set to grow next year, while the private sector will shrink.

'We are seeing a lot of people who have had private sector careers applying for public sector jobs. Most people are being really open-minded.'

Kindersley added that it has only been in the past four-to-six weeks that she has seen a reduction in recruitment, including interim roles.

HOW I SEE IT - JAMES SHELLEY, Director of news, Ministry of Defence

Our recent ad for a press officer generated 250 applicants. After all, what could be more important than explaining to the public their rights and helping people understand government policy? In my view, not much.

But applicants beware: government comms is no easy ride. It deals with some of the most contentious, politically nuanced and emotive issues that affect us today, and in an environment that rightly generates an intense degree of media scrutiny.

I believe that, irrespective of current economic affairs, for the 250 applicants it is those very issues that have generated their interest - that and the chance to make a real difference.

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