Channel 4’s gentle public sector film

I once watched a Channel 4 boss goes under cover programme about a private sector company. It was interesting, exposing problems in the company and leading to new thinking by the boss on how he should do his job.

I therefore tuned in with anticipation last night to see them do the same thing in the public sector. THe CEO of Tower Hamlets went under cover, working with Meals on wheels, pest control, enforcement and housing.

In each case they choose a member of staff who behaved well. The film enabled the CEO to present the case that he ran the perfect organisation, that it was very efficient, and that the lessons to be leanred were they needed more money for capital investment and needed to allow their staff to spend more time on their jobs. Each staff member he worked with was given special recognition or promotion.

During the movie the private sector had to be atacked for putting profit before service. Really Channel 4, you need to make more challenging programmes than this. Why has public sector productivity fallen so far behind private sector in the last ten years? Why couldn’t you choose a boss and a case where lessons could be learned to improve things? We need intelligent and informed debate about how we in the public sector can raise our game, not propaganda films.


  1. Norman
    July 23, 2010

    Someone should call Private Eye and tell them they have Tower Hamlets all wrong!

  2. Alan Jutson
    July 23, 2010


    Shame on you.

    The Public Sector HAVE only one problem, "not enough money".

    In fact 100% of GDP would not be enough for all THEY want to do.

    The question is:
    What do WE who are not in the Public Sector want them to do.

    The Answer is:
    Do only what is neccessary, and as efficient and cost effective as possible.

  3. T French
    July 23, 2010

    John, My mother, 83, lives in Tower Hamlets and I can tell you that it is (questionable-ed), stupid, with a lazy lot of workers who are completely unaccountable to the residents they serve. Most of the staff think they are victims of some sort or other.
    Thus you are right in your suspicion that the C4 programme was a put up job. It most certainly was.

  4. Stuart Fairney
    July 23, 2010

    A local council (which will remain nameless to protect the guilty) just sent me a draft section 106 agreement to sign with mathematical errors !! and demands for money exceeding £20K that my scheme did not justify together with my need to agree to pay their £900 legal fees in preparing and 'checking' the draft. Given that this is available as a pro forma on their own website and they got their own maths and policy wrong, I am inclined to agree the public sector needs to sharpen up quite a bit.

    But the bottom line, if I complain to the Chief exec, nothing will change, I will get a polite letter saying they are sorry 'if I feel' the service is not good, the worker responible wil remain as they never sack anyone for incompetence, and all my legal work will go to the bottom of the pile. There is simply no mechanism for change in the public sector and it's time we abandoned it as a failed experiment.

  5. forthurst
    July 23, 2010

    It's just propaganda dressed up as entertainment, John, so by the same token nothing is too good for a hatchery of the new Britons and it needs the very best CEO and by golly it gets it.

    Never tune into the MSM if your expecting uncomfortable (to the self-chosen arbiters of the public discourse) truths which will alarm the viewers and distort the rose-tinted vision by giving the cold hard truth about where this country has been going for the past few decades. Never expect the champions of the people, both great and small, not to suffer a barrage of vilification with the objective of destroying their public reputations. Never expect the villains and villanies that have been working assiduously to achieve our downfall will ever be exposed.

  6. rose
    July 23, 2010

    We suffer in local government from unsupervised, contracted out work. This is not private sector greed, but public sector slapdashery. The enforcement officers might or might not stroll round occasionally, but no-one is in charge of our streets and looking after them with pride. The council officers are not checking the contractor is respecting them. They are becoming dirtier and noisier and more damaged through a lack of good housekeeping on the part of councils. Contractors are going to do the worst job they can get away with if no-one from the council is checking. It shouldn't matter who is delivering the "services" so long as they are monitored, which they are not.

    This mostly results from no-one walking any more. Not the police, not the council officers, and not the contractors. They all just cruise round in their cars and lorries and couldn't care less what it is like for pedestrians and residents. All that matters is traffic flow and to hell with the toll it is taking on our health and our streets.

  7. nonny mouse
    July 23, 2010

    I like the series and was looking forward to this episode. Every episode seems to follow a set formula. They find one member of staff who is a star performer, one who has overcome some tragic life event and one who is really bad to the customers.

    This one seemed to be set up so that every member of staff was doing an important job and could not be cut. The closest they came to criticizing the staff was when one of the fake police actually had the gall to enforce their own rules and issue a spot fine for littering. Instead of cutting staff they even managed to add an apprentice rat catcher as the result of the program.

    The one thing that struck me, was that for a council which claimed to serve the poorest members of the community they had luxury offices with glass lifts and nice views of Canary Wharf.

    They seemed to be having problems finding 50 million cuts out of a 1 billion budget. I would imagine that things are going to be a lot harder than that for them. Maybe the first thing they do should be to move out of their office block and rent it out to the private sector. They could then move down to the streets that the Tower Hamlets tax payers have to live in.

  8. Nick
    July 23, 2010

    I saw a BBC documentary about North Korea, where the state officials showed the journalist around one of their model towns. "Yes everything is perfect, the State is perfect, there is nothing that can be improved!" they exclaimed. It's embarrassing that some kid themselves, like the North Korean officials, that a) the State can do everything for us and b) the Public Sector is perfect.

  9. Brian
    July 23, 2010

    What do you expect from C4? It's another unaccountable quango.

  10. Derek Buxton
    July 23, 2010

    This article brought back thoughts of a similar programme I saw onI think Chanel 4. The CEO of Pizza Hut went into one of their outlets to see how it all worked in the kitchens and as a waiter. Big joke, after a short time he threw down his apron and stormed out shouting I am not putting up with this or something similar. He just could not hack it. Unfortunately I cannot call to mind his name now but it stuck for a long time, especially as he became head of Channel four a little while later. He is obviously taking his job seriously, no more failures allowed, only public sector (good news stories).

  11. gordon-bennett
    July 23, 2010

    Tower Hamlets is Labour controlled and therefore beyond criticism from the likes of channel 4. I wonder what they would have done to a Conservative controlled council, given their penchant for automatic bias to the left, just like the beeb.

  12. Mark
    July 23, 2010

    By contrast, I found this very refreshing:

  13. Richard1
    July 23, 2010

    Channel 4 (taxpayer financed) doing an 'expose' on a public sector body is like Pravda doing an expose of the Communist Party.

  14. Socrato
    July 23, 2010

    Well it would be nice to think that – but unfortunately the powers that be want to continue to misinform the public – take for example the sham that is the EU stress-tests….the market was informed of the methodology ahead of its release. In the calculation of the stresses – only sovereign bonds kept on the banks trading books were included. Not the nearly 90% that resides on their banking books. This is according to the following bloomberg article…. I'm really surprised that the markets have not collapsed today. More worrying is people seem to be buying this propaganda – why does one call it a stress test if it only affects 10% of the troubled assets and ignores 90%?! Surely it applies stress only to the the meaning and use of the word in this context. Utterly shameless. What it also goes to show is that we desperately need action to limit UK taxpayers further exposure to the RBS et al. In this environment it is not crazy to think there is a rather large cover up going on. Once again I ask what steps have been made to protect the UK taxpayer from further exposure to what seem to be enormous risks in loan portfolios. In the interim – UKFI/Treasury need to at least investigate what hedging they can undertake to limit risk. I had mentioned this many months ago – now that we are in power – we must look at this as a matter of great urgency.

    Sorry bit off topic – but this situation really highlights the need for governments and policy-making processes to not blindly believe all that is put out….clearly this is nonsense and therefore unless we are one-step ahead we risk sliding down the river of hope – the banks (apols) of which were littered with soden copies of these stress tests..

  15. SJB
    July 23, 2010

    Channel 4's Dispatches series.

    "In 2004 and again in 2005, Dispatches went undercover to investigate the Royal Mail. These reports exposed serious systemic and individual failures within the organisation, resulting in an enquiry by the postal regulator, followed by a fine of almost ten million pounds. Five years on, the Royal Mail claims it is modernising and improving its service.

    The reporters find an antiquated system with lax security, poorly trained agency workers – many of whom are clearly not up to the job – damaged and defective equipment and allegations of stealing."

  16. HF111111
    July 23, 2010

    Public sector tv company makes film praising the public sector…

    Bears antics in woods John! Privatise it.

  17. @tomdaylight
    July 24, 2010

    Isn't it amazing how they use "profit" as shorthand for "greed" nowadays. The public sector may be absent of the concept of profit but it wants so much more money to do so much less than the private sector could ever dream of. Now that's what I call greed.

  18. Freeborn John
    July 24, 2010

    One of key ways that the private sector raises productivity is investment in new technology. And technology companies are concentrated along the M4 corridor providing a major source of skilled employment to your constituents. There is no doubt from reading your blog that you wish to both represent the interests of your constituents and raise public sector productivity. I am therefore frequently surprised at your antipathy to public sector technology initiatives. I understand that one or two such programs (like the ID database are inimical to liberty and the public interest, but I feel your first instinct is to condem public sector tech investment as a waste of money and then later also complain about the resulting low productivity.

    Reply: I agree that sensible IT can aid productivity. Unfortunately the public sector is riddled with over specified, over engineered and unloved computer schemes which have not helped raise efficiency.

    1. gordon-bennett
      July 24, 2010

      The ID card would be a viable and attractive concept if it was restricted to holding just a key (eg NI number) instead of the complexity of having to collect and maintain several items of data.

      The resultant secure key card could be used by individual agencies as the key to their own files. This reduces complexity and cost by distributing application development costs to interested users.

  19. Jan
    July 24, 2010

    I have worked in a variety of organisations both public and private sector and was amazed that the individuals picked were able to get on with their jobs and take pride in their work. Indeed they went above and beyond the call of duty. In my experience one is constantly interferred with and prevented from obtaining any job satisfaction. Morale is generally very low which makes it very hard to isolate oneself from this and do a good day's work. So instead of being allowed to get on with their work they were all being invited to attend various meetings which flatter the individual's ego and are considered "a good thing" and will help them climb the corporate ladder no doubt. Will this enhance their ability to do the job which they were all doing very well against all the odds? I doubt it. Why not just let them do their jobs and go home with some job satisfaction instead of attending tedious meetings which will probably achieve very little.

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