Dear ITV

I'd like to make a complaint...

Dear ITV,

On Thursday 1 March you broadcast a show which aimed to compare the differences between working for the public sector and the private sector, and claimed to work out who actually has the better deal.  As you may be able to tell from the title of this blog we are pretty interested in this area of discussion, so settled down in front of the tv with our dinners on our laps and eagerly awaited what we expected would be some in-depth and even handed analysis.

It’s worth saying that we weren’t all at the same place (WLLG Towers is after all a fictional headquarters of a web-based group of anonymous individuals), but you may be surprised to hear that the various authors of this blog soon got in contact with each other and shared their impressions of your investigation and findings.  And would you like to know what our considered opinion of your efforts is?

Well, even if you don’t we are going to tell you.  If you are interested in hearing only positive feedback then, like your editting of the Blur show at the Brits, you’d better cut to an all too frequent ad break now.

We are appalled at your attempt to address what is a complicated and hugely important divide in society through this amateurish piece of diet journalism that would have even Rupert Murdoch thinking “perhaps we didn’t go about this the right way”.  The show (we refuse to grace it with the title of ‘journalistic piece’) had not a single redeeming quality, provided inaccurate and misleading information to its audience and in its own (hopefully small) way contributed to the growing levels of acrimony and bitterness between workers from two interdependent and equally hard working sectors.  There are many, many things which were wrong with it, and we would like to take the opportunity through this open letter to share a few of them with you.

To start with, you took apples and pears and then compared them to see which would make a better car engine.  Your decision to push for a like-for-like comparison between officers from the two sectors by taking a middle management HR officer and comparing them to the owner of a £15m business, each with hugely differing outlooks, responsibilities, backgrounds and drivers for their work (both personal and professional) could at best be described as shoddy, though incompetent would arguably be closer to the mark.  Your ‘reporter’ (although I’m sure we could have thought up a few more appropriate titles for them) then proceeded to ask such leading questions from such obvious angles that it felt as if they were taking a leaf directly from the interviewing skills of Ali G.  It seemed that every point they made was straight from a book of myths and fallacies which bear little relation to actual fact but are as embedded in the public psyche as the Loch Ness monster.

The assertation that all public sector workers have a gold plated pension – a phrase used repeatedly without any real explanation of what it actually meant – is misleading at the very least.  Basic research (which can be done via a wonderful new tool called the internet) would show that modern pension schemes are anything but gold plated; in fact, besides those who reach the very top of the ladder most public sector workers look forward to a meagre package which will allow them to live in relative comfort but not anything that could be described as outright luxury.  If you were trying to offer direct comparisons, then compare the large pensions of top level local government officers with those offered to CEOs of similar sized corporations; it’s not much of a limb for us to go out on here, as you’ll soon find that even at this end of the scale local government officers have a rough deal.

Another ‘fact’ was that private sector workers put up for long days but are rewarded with company cars, expenses, higher wages and bonuses.  My private sector working wife, who incidentally works as a sales assistant in a high street shop, would like to know when to expect any one of these compensating factors.  She sometimes does the long hours you claim are the norm, but often works just to her shift hours, takes the bus to work, has to pay for her uniform (which can hardly be described as a non-work item) and her bonus scheme (which three years ago afforded her a wonderful cheque to the grand sum of £16.51p) was stopped when her company started to feel the pinch.

The claim that public sector officers work only to their hours, take long breaks in the day and clock off at 4.00pm is frankly ludicrous and borderline offensive.  The actor who portrayed this smug, self satisfied and seemingly content jobsworth in your show quite simply can never have met any social worker, nurse, bin collector, teacher or any other of the hundreds of roles undertaken constantly which require an attitude which is anything but smug.  Those who are motivated by the need to serve their community often go above and beyond any call of duty to deliver services for their client groups; to infer otherwise is insulting.

And before you try to point to some specific examples, of course there are those individuals who do work to their hours, to the letter of their job descriptions and little more.  Point to an organisation – your own included – which harbours none of these types of people and we will retract this entire letter.  Our firmly held opinion is that you will not be able to, because it’s people’s attitudes to work which make the difference in this regard, not the organisation they work for.  If I am the sort of person who wants a 9-5 then I may very well work in an office, but whether that’s a town hall or a financial institution is irrelevant.

A further bone of contention comes through your lazy attitude towards the term ‘job-for-life’.  This appeared to be more of your attempt to back up a widely held misconception that once you find your way into the public sector then effectively you will be able to stay in that job for the rest of your life.  Again, were you to do that little bit of research you so clearly haven’t, you will see job loss predictions for the public sector to be anywhere between 310,000 and 710,000.  That could be almost three quarters of a million people who will soon be (or have already been) finding that perhaps the sector isn’t as secure as you make it out to be.  Talk to any public servant and they will be able to tell you either a personal story of redundancy or restructure, or will personally know someone who has or is going through it.

And the evidence you presented that public sector jobs are secure and for life?  You found someone in a council who’d been in the same job for a long time.  Forgive us for thinking that perhaps this isn’t quite enough.

The pay comparisons were ludicrous.  Some rather nifty graphics involving an arrow and a graph appeared to say that public sector workers being paid a low wage was not true, and in fact they all earn more than their private sector counterparts.  Here are a few facts that present these comparisons in a different light:

  • Since 2007, basic pay in the civil service has increased by 6.5% and inflation by 10%, meaning a real terms cut in living standards.
  • Almost half (48%) of civil servants are in admin grades where the average (median) pay in 2009 was £17,120 for women and £17,600 for men.
  • Average civil service pay is £22,850 a year, compared to £24,970 in the private sector.
  • 35,000 (7%) civil servants are paid less than £15,000 a year.
  • 40.5% of civil servants – 210,000 people – are paid £20,000 or less. And 63% of civil servants – 330,000 staff – earn less than £25,000 a year.

Of course there are some who earn more than this – and we seem to be told about each and every one of them on a regular basis with so-and-so earns more than the Prime Minister headlines – but once again, it’s only fair to compare like for like.  Like those in the public sector, many private sector employees are lowly paid, and many are at or below the national average.  However, whilst public sector pay tops out at an admittedly eye watering £379,999 (for Tony Fountain, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authorities chief executive), it doesn’t take a genius to know that in the private sector there really isn’t much of a limit to what you can earn, besides what someone else is willing to pay you.  Stories of celebrities and sports stars – all private sector workers – earning millions are commonplace, as are the reported pay cheques of those involved in high finance and big business.  This of course is not always even in any relation to what you can offer society as a whole, or sometimes even a company itself (just ask many financial managers over the last ten years or so).

Of course, most of us are in a position only to bring this average down; for example, even if you work in a part of the private sector famed for high salaries, such as the financial sector, odds are that you won’t earn a massive salary.  How many bank assistants, financial clerks or admin assistants have a private helicopter after all.

For a neutral (if there can be such a thing) who was watching that, they would have left with the distinct impression that if you were willing to work hard and wanted to achieve something then you should go for the private sector, whereas if you were content with a job for life which didn’t demand too much of your time or commitment then the public sector was for you.  To simplify things to this level of mediocrity is childlike, and frankly we expect slightly more of one of the nations most watched channels.

The programme you poorly put together and broadcast appeared to be one half of a debate piece, deliberately angled to present things in a very biased manner and leading viewers down a route of negativity towards the public sector and the belief that there is a clear divide between two major groups of people.  This is harming and irresponsible, and we implore you to produce a corrective and balanced piece which actually presents the debate in a balanced and mature manner.

Making out that public sector workers are lazy is, somewhat ironically, one of the laziest things you (a private sector company) could have done.  If you want help fixing it we’re happy to lend a hand.  And unlike a private consultancy, we won’t even charge you for the privilege.

Yours faithfully,

The WLLG Team

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at:

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12 Comments on “Dear ITV”

  1. What was almost as bad was the HR manager (perhaps lacking and understanding of the type of show she was in) saying that she can ‘basically come and go as she pleases’.

    Oh, save me…

    It might be the case in her narrow circumstances (she might work for a very mature organisation where all that matters is outputs/outcomes and presenteeism is actively discouraged… or a really poorly managed organisation) but how many other public (or private) sector workers could ever work like that?

    Then again, who needs evidence when you have an anecdote?

  2. Rob Cope Says: doesn’t seem to store past listings so it may help to point out the programme was ‘Tonight’ broadcast 1/3/12 7.30-8pm & it’s on ITVPlayer ATM here:

  3. tomsprints Says:

    Great piece about that abomination that passed for television. I have only one complaint, and that is at your use of the words “borderline offensive”, with which you really did pull your punches. Something like “downright libellous” would be nearer the mark.

    • localgov Says:

      Ha! I did wonder about that and considered being stronger, and in the end settled on borderline as a turn of phrase instead.

      I don’t disagree with you however!

  4. E9to5 Says:

    In the style of Harry Simpson (, a very quick rant: “I’m sick of it all. I’m sick of misinformed populists banging on about gold-plated public sector pensions, I’m sick of Winterval myths and labelling back-office council staff as Town Hall fat cats. I’m sick of being told when my authority should empty its bins, and being cheerily reminded about my ‘job for life’ during the latest round of restructuring.

    My profession, which is noble and often selfless, is greatly misunderstood. It will never be valued in the way it deserves, until it’s too late.“

    There we go- I’m done now. I’m not actually as negative as this parody sounds, but occasionally it’s good to get things off your chest.

  5. […] have often said that local government is a job for life (ITV did so just last week!!!) but they would be wrong. Increasingly, local government staff are needing to think about their […]

  6. Barb Dwyer Says:

    Aside from the points that are made so well in this letter I am deeply worried about the effect that this show (it couldn’t be called a documentary) has on my job prospects. I was made redundant last year so I’m living proof that lifelong jobs are a myth. We were told by the Government that the shortfall in jobs would be made up from jobs in the private sector, but who in the private sector will want to employ me after that negative picture?
    – Oh and by the way ITV, as a local govt manager I frequently worked evenings and weekends as well as taking work home with me.

  7. […] As long as the TPA takes these sorts of cheap publicity shots and continues to blame council officers for decisions made outside their remit, they will continue to prompt defensive attitudes and negative emotions, and add as much useful spin into the debate as ITV did recently. […]

  8. […] through most of the year.  With cuts aplenty, morale at a low point, pensions being raided and attacks on public servants from left right and centre, isn’t it about time we stood up for ourselves […]

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