Public Sector vs.       Private Sector

Former Liverpool architect and author of Cancer 4 Me 5

After working in the private sector for over 25 years, I took up a senior position in the public sector last year, so I guess this article was always going to be written.

My assessment of both systems.

They are the two prime mediums for working and earning your living, in just about every country in the world. My conclusions, as you may have guessed, were never going to be conclusive. Both have advantages. Both have disadvantages. We are all unique human beings, all with different attributes and weaknesses, so it was never going to be a case that one system would fit all.

What I miss most about the private sector is the independence I had to generate the freedom I sometimes needed to get things done. I could cut corners. I could take risks. I could use my own judgment on what the likely scenario was going to be and make a decision based purely on that. In 99 cases out of a hundred, my decision would be right.

The public sector is often based on the one case in a hundred when my decision would be wrong. It tends to replace enterprising exuberance with calculated caution. Public sector activity takes full account of all of the likely scenarios and the action required is generally governed by the possibility of the worst one arising. And, to be fair, it needs to. When you are spending public money you must be both accountable and transparent. You can’t afford to ignore the one case in a hundred when your decision will be the wrong one.  In the private sector, you can override this factor if you choose. You can brief your client on how miniscule the risk might be and the decision can be made on whether the chance is worth taking. It is their money.

A year and a half on I now have a good appreciation of both systems. I can sympathize with the private sector on how slow it sometimes seems to be to get things done in the public sector. But I can also empathize with the public sector too. It is always there like a guard dog to ensure our society functions. When calamities occur due to poor practice in the private sector, it is the public sector that is called in to sort things out. And we need it to be there as such.

But in the end, irrespective of the system, everything still comes down to the people. In general terms, I have a sense of a slightly different aura between public and private sector employers and employees. At its very best, I feel the private sector is the place to be. I worked for an architectural practice in England for 8 years and the quality of the cohesiveness, the loyalty, the support, the dedication and the friendship of our small team there was the greatest I have ever experienced.

I can’t control the system of where I work, but I can control myself. And I believe my working day is not a separate entity to the remainder of my life.


But at its worst, the private sector is the last place you want to be. The opportunities for a bad employer or bad work colleague to control, or manipulate or cause you distress, solely on the grounds of you needing them more than they need you, often goes unseen and unchecked.  

The public sector is more in the middle ground. It probably will never reach the highs of the best parts of the private enterprise, but, to balance, everybody is better protected and can have their voice heard.

All through my life, when I get confused, I just turn back on myself. I can’t control the system of where I work, but I can control myself. And I believe my working day is not a separate entity for the remainder of my life. I need to subject it to exactly the same principles as I would with everything else I do. In all of my life, I need to keep trying to do the best I can. I would not ask anybody else to do anything I would not do myself. I try to bring enthusiasm and spirit, not just to everything I do, but to those doing it with me too. Just as I would in normal life. I would never want anybody working with or under me to have any fault with me as a human being. I believe the principles you strive to apply in your home and with your family equally apply where you work. They are part of you, not part of where you are.

The first thing I do every morning when I arrive in the town where I work is go to St. Mary’s church and light a candle for the day ahead. I light it so that I will endeavor to do the best I can with everything that comes along that day. That I will be the best person I can be to everyone I am going to meet. I light the candle in the hope that my day will be one that is something useful. It will make a positive contribution to things that need to be done and to the people I encounter. In a very small way, that I will add something to the world today.

I don’t always succeed of course, but at least when I fail I know that I will be back again tomorrow morning to set out to try all over again. No system can allow for the fact that we are all individuals. This little mechanism, I believe, is the best one I can put in place to keep trying to ensure I get the best version of myself every day.  

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