29 April 2005
The Public Finance Public Servants of the Year Awards were presented last week at a glittering event in London. Editor Mike Thatcher describes the reactions of the team and individual winners and explains what happened at the ceremony
It was a remarkable occasion. The great and the good gathered at London's Grosvenor House Hotel last week to attend the presentation of the Public Servants of the Year Awards.
Fifteen category winners were announced and, from these, emerged an Outstanding Public Servant of the Year and, for the first time, a shared award for the Outstanding Team of the Year.
Ken Hunter, the Outstanding Public Servant of the Year, summed up the mood amongst the winners. 'Initially, I felt disbelief. And then I just felt chuffed and honoured that the work that I have been doing has been recognised.'
A firefighter approaching retirement after 26 years' service, Hunter was rewarded for his efforts in combating arson and car crime among children and young people. He won the top individual prize, having earlier triumphed in the social inclusion category.
In a first for the event, the judges decided that the top team award should be shared between London Buses and Northern Ireland school cleaners Belbclean. London Buses had already picked up the local government award, while Belbclean was selected as the education winner.
London Mayor Ken Livingstone reacted with delight to London Buses' success. He said that the capital's bus service had been transformed, with services more reliable and popular than at any time in the past 40 years. 'These awards recognise the remarkable achievements of the team at London Buses. I congratulate everybody who has contributed to giving London some of the best bus services in the world,' the mayor added.
Joanne Blacklock, Belbclean's building cleaning manager, said she was thrilled and deeply honoured to win the award. 'This is enormous recognition of the work our frontline cleaning staff and unsung heroes do in our schools, and highlights the valuable contribution they make on a daily basis in providing a clean and safe environment for education and learning to take place.'
More than 700 people attended the glamorous ceremony on Thursday 21 April. Now in its fifth year, the event was introduced by Sir Michael Lyons, the director of Inlogov and chair of the judging panel. The hosts were Dermot Murnaghan from BBC News and Mary Nightingale from ITN News.
Lyons described the selection process as an 'increasingly complex' job. The judges had more than 400 entries to discuss and 17 separate decisions to make. He added that public servants were under growing pressure to make best use of the resources and skills available. 'And that makes it all the more important that we use events like tonight to pick out some really excellent examples of what can be done in public service and share that more widely so they can be replicated,' he said.
All of the winners exemplified what Sir Andrew Turnbull, the Cabinet secretary and guest speaker, described as the 'extraordinary dedication' of public servants. He said that, over his 35 years of public service, he had been amazed by their contribution – including, in recent months, rescue workers who risked their lives to save others in the Boscastle floods and those who set up a helpline for victims of the tsunami by 8:30am on Boxing Day.
In his speech, the Cabinet secretary criticised those who describe public service workers as 'faceless bureaucrats'. He went on to argue that the term 'back office' had been unfairly used to stigmatise support workers, who should not be seen as second-class employees compared with those in the front line.
'As a piece of management theory, it is a valid distinction, but it is not the "front line good, back office bad" distinction that is often made. It should not carry the pejorative meaning that those in support roles are intrinsically less valuable,' he said.
'The doctor's receptionist or secretary not only serve patients directly but also create more time for doctors to see patients. The Army see the logistics corps as an integral part of the fighting force.'
Turnbull said he also wanted to rebut the view that the private sector is the creator of wealth and the public sector merely consumes it. In reality, the two were interdependent and neither could prosper without the other, he argued.
'We in the public sector have an immense amount to be proud of, and the Public Servants of the Year Awards are one way of celebrating our success and recognising the difference that individuals and teams make.'