Public-sector challenges

Leighton's kind of itchy-footed pluralism is becoming ever more common.

by Matthew Gwyther, mt editor
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

A minor coup for MT this month. For as long as I've been editing this magazine, we've been on the trail of Britain's busiest businessman, a guy with fewer windows in his organiser than a Bolivian prison cell.

We finally pinned him into that orange chair at Selfridges for long enough to do an interview.

Famed as the author of the expression 'going plural', Allan Leighton now works for a number of different masters. This kind of itchy-footedness is becoming ever more common. Few individuals nowadays leave school or college and stick with one organisation until they receive the retirement gold watch. The last piece of research I saw on the subject suggests that 70% of graduates plan a major switch of career, never mind employer, before they hit 35.

If employment trends are anything to go by, a large number of recent graduates are going to wind up working for the Government. Since Labour came to power in 1997, well over half a million public-sector jobs have been created - an increase of 11% compared with a 5.7% increase in the private sector.

Our Global Salary Survey, which makes its welcome bi-annual appearance this month, looks closely at what is going on here, and has findings that many will regard as disturbing. A well-managed public sector is highly important, bearing in mind the hundreds of billions of pounds of our cash it burns through every year. Labour has been keen to recruit private-sector business people into the public sector, and an organisation such as the Royal Mail needed leaders with forceful talents like those of Leighton to knock it into shape after years of dire management.

But this raising of standards does not come cheap and has led to steady wage inflation, especially in middle and senior-ranking roles. I've just been onto the Guardian's website section for Government jobs. There are currently, in the dog days of August, no fewer than 18 positions in the £100,000-and-above section. One of these is for a 'Corporate Director - Regeneration and Neighbourhoods' in the London Borough of Hackney at £118,000-£126,000 a year, plus - I don't doubt - a nice package of extras that includes a juicy pension.

'London wouldn't be London without Hackney,' says the accompanying blurb.

Quite so. Hackney has the worst-performing schools in the country and is the second most deprived local authority in the land. It fails to collect 15% of its council tax and has crime figures that would have made the Khe Sanh ridge look like Paris in the spring. To be honest, if I was in the market for a Corporate Director - Regeneration and Neighbourhoods kind of job, I wouldn't join the Hackney payroll for a mere £118,000.

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