Do public servants really serve the public?


I accept that in many, if not most, cases a job is in fact just a job. Few people find their true calling or are lucky enough to earn by doing what it is they truly enjoy doing.
But when it comes to public service a job should not be just a job. Public service demands something more from people – something in addition to the more selfish financial and gratification aspects of a job. It requires a commitment to support and promote the welfare of others, something that should come from an internal desire to help, not something that need be mandated.

The public servant is driven by the smiles, satisfaction and progress of citizens who have benefited from their endeavours. The public servant’s moral compass is true, unwavering and does not dim with the passage of time, no matter the setbacks.

But, reality (in my experience) is different.

Here is a small anecdotal case in point. An example of the apathy of the many and the proactivity of the few.

A fortnight ago I wrote to every London borough council. I sent five personalised letters to each. Two to the councillors responsible for adult service and local regeneration. And three to the chief executive and the two directors, also of adult services and local economic regeneration. I wrote, addressed and signed a covering letter informing them of the existence of Trading Times as a new and free social enterprise to help over 50s and family carers find paid flexible work opportunities. I politely asked for mention to be made of Trading Times in their local newsletters, social media and other communications for the benefit of their local communities. I also enclosed five A5 flyers and a copy of our 6th of January press release. (I have attached a copy of all of these to this blog).

33 councils. But I didn’t include Barnet as I’ve already received and continue to receive massive support from this borough council. In fact, a key component of my covering letter was the keynote quote from the Director of Adult Services of LB of Barnet, one of our biggest supporters. So 32 councils, 160 letters.

That was 14 days ago.

All I can say is, ‘Thank You, Hillingdon!’

Were the rest all too busy? Were they all on holiday? Too lazy? Did they just not care? Possibly it’s a case of ‘not invented here, so can’t be any good’. Maybe they don’t read their mail.

OK, I am the founder. And I am completely biased. Of course, Trading Times is an incredible must-signup-to service. What’s not to get or like? But, one out of 32! How difficult is one tweet or a post? How difficult is a couple of sentences on the extranet or in the local newsletter? Trading Times has credibility (winner of Design Council & Department of Health “Design Challenge”, winner Barnet Big Society Innovation Bank award). Trading Times has received grant funding from UnLtd and Nominet Trust. Trading Times is a social enterprise with a big socio-economic impact objective. And it’s free for all over50 and carer candidates. We’ve also recently extended it to include all single parents (fathers and mothers).

The leaders in Hillingdon council get it. They tweeted, they emailed me, they included Trading Times in their newsletter and on their extranet. In the two days that followed, more than 200 Hillingdon residents visited the TT website, many of whom registered with the service. I am looking forward to visiting the Hillingdon plus50 and carer forums and meeting with the local regeneration team.

All this from just one interested civil servant doing what they’re supposed to do – looking out for the best interests of their local residents, particularly the more vulnerable, marginalised groups. It probably took no more than an hour in total, but it had such a big impact, one that will probably gain momentum as it makes its way across the Hillingdon social newswires.

Laziness, apathy, lack of interest are all dangerous things in public service. Not everyone is suited to it. I’m not sure I have what it takes. To truly care, to strive for the best, to be always aware, constantly questionning, to never stop looking for the next service innovation.

Barnet gets it. Hillingdon gets it. I am really surprised more do not.