21st October 2016
The importance of public service values
Just over 40 years ago, I decided that public service was my destiny. I joined the recently formed Tower Hamlets Social Services to learn and practice Social Work, helping disadvantaged families and their children navigate their troubles and come out on top. I’d contemplated teaching but decided that my talents may not lie in inspiring students to love history as I did. Rather, I took the path that led me to try to improve the conditions in which children lived so that they could take advantage of their education and achieve potential and in turn, their aspirations.
Today, I am “differently occupied”, after a career that took me from social worker to Chief Executive in some of the most challenging, fascinating and worthwhile places in the country.
Now, as a mentor, leadership assessor, and Safeguarding Board chair, I am still trying to serve and use my rich experience to good effect.
Today, I see the need for public service values is as great as ever. Mind, where once the public sector was synonymous with public service, that has now changed. We now have a vibrant independent voluntary sector and even the private sector, taking on many public service roles and contracts. Creative, aspirational organisations are now moving into the space that local government alone filled. Increasingly, Local Authorities are commissioning others to work in partnership with a diverse array of Schools, colleges and early years provision as well as the Health
service organisations locally, to stitch together an offer of early help and support which will prevent all but the most complex and serious situations requiring the intervention of Police and Local Authority Children’s services. In overstretched adults services, the private sector predominates in the provision of domiciliary and residential care.
What should enjoin all these differently sized and governed organisations is a common purpose and a shared value base. What is required of public service leaders is a profound commitment to working together with others; to modelling an open, inclusive and positive approach to service and change; to co-production with those using services; demonstrating a commitment to learning and taking responsibility for the risk managed by staff and colleagues every day.
Public service never was for the faint-hearted. In the increasingly complex landscape which I sketch above, in this era of austerity, with inequality on the rise, in the spotlight provided by social media, public service and its leadership is challenging, and yet, never more worthwhile.
By Penny Thompson CBE, Senior independent leadership adviser and mentor; Independent Chair of Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board; Solace Associate.