Churchill’s job description for a politician pointed to an essential
ability to predict what’s going to happen tomorrow, next week, next
month and next year. After a pause he added: “And to have the ability
afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.”
I’m tempted to speculate on how this week will go. I’m away from the
office for two days to attend the Public and Commercial Services union
conference at Brighton – I’m due to chair a question time on the future
of the civil service – and that’s followed by press day for our feature
Public Servant celebrated its first anniversary in May. PS
is a fortnightly news magazine for public sector managers. A tabloid
with a strong features section at its core, it’s geared to encourage
readers to dip straight in. We connect Westminster to Whitehall and the
people who create frontline services.
We explore what happens
between policy and practice, and discover some wonderfully innovative
public sector professionals along the way. It’s an industry in the
throes of constant change. It has masses of targets and accountability
and inspection regimes that would drive many a private sector manager
to seek refuge in the fascinating world of yodelling.
a name for ourselves by breaking off-diary news. Against all
assurances, the Department of Health is now looking to ringfence 10 per
cent of primary care budgets for private healthcare, and the dailies
and health titles have been in our wake on this one. The leak has just
reached today’s Private Eye, as has the tension over private finance
initiative liabilities being kept off balance sheet (PS, 22 April).
We’ve recently added to our management strength. Wendy Wood has
arrived from Trinity Mirror, where she has been running a magazine
In March last year I talked to myself for a while in a large room in
Newcastle, Staffs, as I began the business of turning PSCA
International chief Darren Wilson’s vision for Public Servant into
Now I am looking to further develop this very able
editorial team. I finalise an advertisement to go into Press Gazette
and am assured there will be a new senior London reporter to work the
Whitehall patch and a reporter/feature writer for our
Newcastle-under-Lyme base on their way before I take a break in July.
call Peter Mandelson’s office in Brussels. His minder says it’s chaos –
Washington, then the European summit, no time to breathe. A Whitehall
department has offered an interview with their chief. I’m struggling to
get a date from them.
Features editor Alison Thomas has followed up her excellent
interview with Department for Work and Pensions boss Sir Richard
Mottram with a piece on the PM’s former adviser on public service
reform Wendy Thomson. She has quit as head of the new leadership centre
for local government after only a few months. I also like Institute of
Public Policy Research director Nick Pearce’s look at Tony Blair’s bid
for a lasting legacy through “choice”.
Time for a meeting with everyone before the dash for my
Stoke-on-Trent to Brighton train. Tomorrow’s Public Servant question
time is my prime concern, but aside from the pleasure of seeing Public
and Commerce Service Union general secretary Mark Serwotka, who writes
a monthly column, we’ve booked a table at Momma Cherri’s Soul Food
Shack as featured on Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.
two early evening receptions – it was good to meet Prospect’s Paul Noon
among the guests – we’re ready for dinner. Momma’s artistry with a mop
around our legs in mid-meal is a treat. A small flood spreading from
behind the bar is all part of the special ambience and the midweek
“soul in a bowl” is too good to miss.
I give the 6.30am jog along the seafront a miss to work on my
questions for the conference session. What can I expect from the
audience? A minute before our scheduled start I have panellists
Serwotka, Work Foundation’s David Coats and LSE’s Professor Ed Page and
a smattering of loyalists in a large room.
Suddenly the doors swing back and there’s a surge. We have a virtual
sell-out and everyone’s in top form. The audience is keen to respond.
People speak from the heart about their concern for the future.
start by discussing the image of civil servants and how that might be
improved, especially in the light of comments by Sir Richard Mottram in
Public Servant that Department for Work and Pensions people are just as
important as doctors, nurses or teachers.
Serwotka blasts the permanent secretary for hypocrisy.
Coats says MPs find it easy to score points by picking on public servants as burdensome consumers of tax revenues.
agrees. It’s the politicians, not the public, who have to understand
respect for public servants. Applause and lots of positive feedback at
the end. Home in the nick of time to take my wife Lynn to birthday
Back in the editor’s chair for press day. Chief reporter Dean
Carroll gives me a promising batch of news copy to evaluate while I go
through the feature page proofs. I’m not sure if Churchill came up with
a job description for an editor… was it something about two pairs of
eyes and four pairs of hands?