It’s too hard to sack people in the public sector. That, at least, was the suggestion made in the Radio 4 programme Sack ‘Em earlier this week. The BBC had used Freedom of Information requests to show that very few people get sacked from public sector organisations. The obvious riposte to this is ‘compared to what?’ In the absence of comparative data from the private or voluntary sectors, the fact that the DWP sacked 1,131 people last year, and that only 43 were dismissed for capability, is pretty meaningless.
There is, though, comparative data on the use of disciplinary procedures by the public sector which suggests that the stereotype has some basis in fact. The public sector does discipline fewer employees than the private sector and it takes a lot longer to do it too.
Of course, the private sector often pays people off with compromise agreements before cases get to the dismissal stage, something which, for financial and political reasons, the public sector finds it more difficult to do. Mangers in the private sector tend to avoid confrontations about poor performance too; they just buy their way out of trouble instead of hiding behind procedures.
In my experience, when it comes to dealing with poor performance, one of the toughest gangs in town is the voluntary sector. Charities don’t have long-winded processes or the money to throw at problems. cash-strapped as most of them are, they tend to discipline and sack poor performers more quickly than either the public sector or the large private companies.
As the public sector becomes more cash-starved it will almost certainly have to start doing similar. Which is the theme of today’s Guardian Cuts Blog. If you have any comments, please leave them over at there so all the argument stays in one place. You’ll have to register but it’s fee and they allow you to make up a silly name if you want to remain anonymous.