Why does no one ever get sacked in the public sector?

The public sector should be about providing high quality services, free at the point of delivery, for those who have paid their taxes to contribute to them. I stress the words high quality, since all too often, whilst they may be free, many people employed in the public sector just don’t seem to be very good at what they do. Why is this?

A story to illustrate one of the main reasons for this popped up and vanished again very quickly. More than 1,800 coppers, out of around 96,000 failed to pass a newly introduced basic physical fitness test. I say basic and I mean basic. One of the core components is to run 525 metres in 3 minutes 40 seconds. This works out to be around 5.3 mph or 8.5 km/h – or less than double average walking pace and only 1.3 mph quicker than a ‘brisk walking pace’.

To my mind this is a disgrace. If PC Plod (quite literally given these speeds) is meant to catch criminals – especially when walking the beat – then surely, but surely, a key competence has to be his or her ability to run after a crook?

And having set this gruelling physical challenge, how many of the 1,863 coppers have been sacked? None. In the two years since this basic requirement has been introduced has a single police officer been dismissed.

And it is not just a failure to dismiss for being too unfit. Out of a policing force of 93,956 just 32 police officers were sacked last year. That is a 3,000-1 likelihood that there is a not very good copper out there – simply unbelievable odds that they have recruited so well. When looking at the reasons for dismissal, if you are a police officer you have to do something pretty bloody awful like ‘causing a girl under 16 years of age to engage in sexual activity’, ‘had breached bail conditions on numerous occasions.’ or ‘misused Police computer systems for a non-policing purpose’ before dismissal would be considered.

But that isn’t the only part of the public sector that seems to allow the failures of basic requirements of the job be passed over without dismissal. Take the NHS. There are 232,439 practising doctors at the moment. Yet an average of just 75 have been struck off the GMC register over the last five years. That’s a 3,100-1 shot of being dismissed. With nurses there is a similar story with around 500 struck off each year whilst the headcount for nursing staff in the UK is more than 672,000 – a more than one in a thousand chance of a nurse being rubbish enough to be sacked.

Teaching is even more farcical. In the 40 years to 2010 (admittedly old figures, but the most recent ones), just 18, yes – 18, staff were sacked for being crap teachers. Lord only knows how many teachers there have been over that time, but there are around 438,000 teaching staff currently working. Despite university lecturers never having to have undergone any formal training there are no figures for university lecturers being sacked for being crap.

These are just examples. The military do not even publish details of how many have been sacked for misconduct or given a dishonourable discharge. The fire service, from personal experience, will go to extremes to not have to deal with the wrath of the FBU for sacking someone to such an extent that a murdering backrobber was only dismissed for absenteeism (as he couldn’t come to work because he was in a maximum security prison) rather than being a murdering backrobber.

Now I am not saying that everyone should be dismissed. Far from it. But either the public sector has, across the board, some of the best recruitment policies in the world or there is a systemic problem around managing performance of poorly performing staff and getting rid of those simply not up to a job. This leads to an arrogance and complacency amongst poor performing staff that no matter how awful they are at their job they will never be kicked out. How can the public, who pay their taxes and expect good standards of service get these if an entire sector is hellbent on retaining even the very worst staff in order to not rock the boat? And why on earth is no one jumping up and down in anger that the public is being failed by entire sector when it comes to ensuring that there aren’t just people in post but good people in post?




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