Bringing central government to the FTSE comparison party

Bringing central government to the FTSE comparison party

Jes Ladva, Odgers Interim’s Managing Partner and Head of Practice for Local and Central Government, believes the reach and positive impact on the public of Government Departments and their leadership, is all too often downplayed or overlooked.  

Last month’s launch by Odgers Interim of an “alternative FTSE” called the OLASE was a light-hearted approach to make a serious point – highlighting the scale and breadth of local government, a state of affairs that all too often goes unheralded. We shone a spotlight on the sector by making income comparisons with the UK’s largest listed companies.  

Our analysis of the 2021-22 statement of accounts for over 100 English Councils found that 46 of them had income of over £1 billion. But where do these major public sector organisations stand in relation to the UK’s largest quoted companies, those that comprise the FTSE-350 index? Voila, for answers look no further than the OLASE (Odgers Local Authority Stock Exchange) table!

Now that we are heading into the festive season, it would be wrong not to invite central government to the party. After all, some Government Departments enjoy a reach and impact that leading FTSE companies can only wish for (Dear Santa…).

The Department for Work & Pensions (DWP), for instance, has over 85,000 employees and is responsible for welfare, pensions, child maintenance policy and a range of working age, disability, and ill health benefits for around 20 million people. How many private sector companies are in regular contact with 20 million UK customers?

That is a rhetorical question, by the way. Not one I can answer, other than to say: not many, if any. My point once again is to underline the often-overlooked fact that Government Departments have a huge impact on people’s lives on a daily basis and are packed with talented individuals who frequently work wonders – without the assistance of Rudolph or an army of elves.  

Take the Department of Health & Social Care, which between April 2021-March 2022 responded to the pandemic by overseeing the distribution of 9.9 billion items of PPE and vaccinated 91.8% of the population (age 12 or over) with their first dose of the COViD-19 vaccine. Or as an illustration of the breadth and range of some arms of central government, how about the DCMS? Its responsibilities span galleries to gambling, sports to tourism, telecoms to public broadcasting, and much more besides. There is a simply staggering amount of specialist expertise resident in the civil service.      

Departments with a wide remit understandably require big budgets. We have examined the annual report and accounts of the 24 ministerial Departments and they provide illuminating reading. Certainly, some financial comparisons could be made with leading private sector organisations, the titans of the FTSE.

In general terms, not enough is made of the momentous work carried out by civil servants. Politics comes into play and the fact that these are Departments of ‘Government’ may discourage people from offering praise for important and sometimes groundbreaking work, even when it is objectively deserved. That is a real shame.

Of course, I’m not saying all is rosy in this neck of the woods. For instance, the DWP faces a staffing crisis – the Public and Commercial Services Union is pushing for the recruitment of an additional 30,000 employees to ease the burden of a heavy workload and meet what it describes as “chronic” staff shortages.

Recruitment on this scale is unlikely to take place. Everyone working for a Government Department is mindful of the constraints of the public purse and the need to provide value for money. Many smart operators have sharpened their skills in this environment and at a senior level there is now a rich repository of talent keen to apply their expertise to challenging and often transformational interim assignments. Just like in the private sector.

Accordingly, a key feature of our work currently is ‘porosity’ (i.e. access to cross-sector talent) and widening the available talent pool, whether interim or permanent, thereby strengthening both sectors: public and private. If this is on your wish list, please do get in touch.


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