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WORK LIFE - MAGIC KINGDOM COMES

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Don't take the mickey, but compared to the private sector, local government is nothing short of a roller-coaster ri...
Don't take the mickey, but compared to the private sector, local government is nothing short of a roller-coaster ride, says Paul Masterman

When I last worked in local government some 18 years ago,many of us were trying hard to turn our councils into Mickey Mouse out fits.That is to say,

we were all booking trips to Florida to find out how Disney or,closer to home, Marks &Spencer did it.'It ' being the ability to deliver products that do not come back,to customers that do.

This fashion for 'public sector bad, private sector good ' has returned recently

to haunt us,if under a different name. In the same way that flared trousers of

the 1970s have metamorphosed into the boot-cut jeans of the 1990s,we now have to call it a private finance initiative,public/ private partnership, externalisation or such like.The private sector is again a good thing.

As local government becomes more entrepreneurial and customer focused,

so it has become more interested in attracting private sector executives to

share the secrets of the Magic Kingdom - the world of commerce.

And if one accepts the view of headhunters that the managing director of a ball-bearing factory in Dudley can transform into the chief executive of the neighbouring council, then the barriers between the two sectors do seem to be breaking down at last.

If all this is true,then as a public service to LGC readers - and after six months back in local government following several years in commerce

- I want to share my five-step guide to making the move from the private to

public sector.

1.Don 't believe the image

Research tells us that private sector staff see local government as uniformly boring and staffed by dull,grey suits with pens in their top pocket.This is not true - mostly.While some of us do own the odd grey suit bought at a C&A closing-down sale,the last six months at Shropshire CC have been one hell of a roller-coaster ride for me,working with some of the most committed people I

have ever met,o n a hugely demanding and complex agenda.Boring,no,

definitely not.Scary,demanding, stressful,challenging,exciting - yes, sometimes.

2.Start reading the newspapers

You cannot do justice to a job in the public sector without understanding the

issues.In the private sector,it helps to understand your client 's business,but it

is not a deal breaker.In local government, the issues are hugely important. Since moving to Shropshire,I have had to learn about education,social care and health equalities,community cohesion,best value,comprehensive performance assessment,public service agreement targets,sickness absence policies, sustainability and potholes.And that was the first week.

3.Don 't try to busk it

Much success in the private sector relies on salesmanship and presentation. This will only get you so far in the public sector.

It starts with the application form,which is far more challenging than a clever

letter and attached CV.

If you receive an interview,it will be an exhausting day of tests,discussions and

presentations - not an hour 's chat over lunch with the MD of a rival company.

And if you survive to actual employment, then in your --rst week a cute council

member is likely to undermine your entire world view with a well-aimed

question.

4. It 's not as different as you might think

Despite step 3 above,the skills of salesmanship and presentation are just

as important in the public arena.For too long,local government has failed to put its message across to local people or earn a place at the top table of government. Look at the council chief executives who met prime minister Tony Blair recently - they all lead councils that punch at or above their weight in terms of communication and PR.Meanwhile,if you have spent your

career in the private sector hitting tough targets and managing tight budgets,

then welcome to the world of local government.

5. Buy yourself a tie

This is a bloke thing,but for the last few years in the private sector the open

n ecked look has been de rigueur .Now I work for a council,it is comforting that

I have to be suited and booted every day without worrying what constitutes

'smart casual '.But if you do want to exude danger,just take your jacket off.

Good luck.

Paul Masterman

Head of communications and corporate policy, Shropshire CC

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