Good ethics in
the public sector

  • Front line people are being squeezed
  • There is an alternative to the status quo
  • ‘Just Culture’ shows what is possible
Good Ethics panel

There is a growing feeling across the public sector that unmanaged public expectations and a cultural imperative of central control is leaving the people who provide public service somewhere between a rock and a hard place. Public spending cuts are making matters worse but even if they were removed we would still have a major problem on our hands.

Good Works members include professionals from across the public sector and we are working with other organisations and making connections to help reframe what ‘public service’ means – organisations such as Public Concern at Work, Together for The Common Good and the Westminster Abbey Institute.

If you feel you or your organisation would like to join in these connections then you are very welcome to get in touch.

There Is An Alternative
Letting the status quo continue unchallenged cannot be an option and recent scandals such as the systematic sexual abuse of girls in Rotherham may provide a catalyst for change. In the meantime levels of morale are low across the public sector.

Teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers and police find themselves being given an impossible workload and often a set of priorities that conflict with their own values by an apparently rational system of decision making. How did we get here?


Did you know that there are more teachers who are not working as teachers, than there are teachers who are actually teaching? And every year we spend more public money training new teachers even though many will not even make it into the classroom. And of those that do hardly any will probably be teaching in ten years time. Ask any school inspector ‘off the record’ and they will tell you that the job as described on paper is undoable and even they would not be able to do it for any length of time.

“No bull ever got heavier by being weighed”

Out there right now fundamentals such as a clarity of purpose, ‘job design’ and workload are somehow neglected by both managers and employee representatives. The consequences of this can only be negative and far reaching. Alternative ‘solutions’ just add to the problem. More bureaucracy, regulation, inspection and reorganisation just cost more money and disrupt the workplace relationships that keep public services ticking over.

Good ethics and in particular the principle of Subsidiarity can help work out a better way to manage public services by reframing both the dialogue in the workplace and the public debate. We need to focus on achieving the right ‘balance’ rather than a mirage of what is often referred to as ‘world class performance’.

To gain an insight of what is possible we recommend listening to the recent Radio 4 podcast on ‘Just Culture’ by Margaret Heffernan (click here). This focuses on the aviation industry which despite being highly regulated and global manages to put a ‘higher purpose’ ahead of profit. That higher purpose is ‘public safety’ and the industry does it better than when much of it was under public ownership…


Good Solutions copy

Girl panel

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