Battle of the sectors: Public versus Private

Picture the scenario, as a contractor you’ve built up a reputation for reliability and hard work. The choice of two contracts come up: one in the Public sector, one in the Private sector. Which do you choose?

The Public sector

With an increased drive for savings (which doesn’t look to end anytime soon), more and more public services are being outsourced to contractors.    

One of the initial downsides of applying for a Public sector contract can be the amount of hoops you have to jump through to get a foot in the door. After all, if you’re busy filling in forms and proving governance just to get a call back, you’re not earning any money. Is it worth the sacrifice? The answer is that it depends on the contract, but here’s a few points you should consider:

  • How long is the contract?
  • How does the remuneration compare?
  • Will it enhance your reputation?

Let’s look at these points in more detail...

Increasingly, Public sector organisations will have a clause written into a contract that if the contract is extended past its initial length, they will be looking for a discount. You may be looking at a healthy initial daily rate for the first six months, but what happens if the contract gets extended at a lower daily rate and you have nothing else on the table?

It can be hugely beneficial to have a Ministry of Defence or NHS feature on your CV. The experience of working in the Public sector can also be a hugely rewarding experience both in terms of the people you meet and the exposure to different work practices and systems, but this can also bite you in the foot, especially if as an IT Contractor you’re involved in a massive project which goes awry, or worse still, gets cancelled before completion. Having said that, when was the last time you saw a big government IT project going wrong?

A plus side of working a Public sector job can be the stability of a role. We’ve heard of contracts which were ‘strictly’ six months which are now into their fifth year. So, the right Public sector role can provide a good bedrock to gain experience.

We asked our followers on LinkedIn what their experience of working in both sectors, one commented:   

Private sector contracts generally are more innovative and exciting while public sector contracts benefit from predictability making planning less cumbersome and changeable.”

At its best the Public sector can provide an environment for innovation and excellence.

The Private sector

The Private sector does have the reputation of being sharper and less wasteful than that of its Public sector sibling, but this isn’t necessarily the case. It does depend on how the organisation is run and its culture.

Certainly, as the Private sector is more focussed on profit, it can be a more dynamic and more fluid environment to work in compared to the Public sector. However, as a contractor it can be a less secure contract.

Another follower on LinkedIn said:

“I left the Public sector in 2014 after 22 years. I breathed a sigh of relief and set up my own business. Gone are the politics, leadership issues and tight budgets. The private sector is much more forward thinking and a nice place to be.” 

This view very much fits the general image of a Private sector which is more nimble and responsive than its Public counterpart, but is this always the case? In a tough economic climate, the very existence of a commercial organisation can become doubtful. This could have a huge knock-on effect for other businesses who rely on their custom.

Certainly, this is an area for debate, but what do you think? We’d love to know! Send your thoughts to

We'd like to thank Philip Hodgkiss from Director of SMARTER Project Management Ltd and Marisa Firkins CMIOSH  Director at Safety Forward Ltd for their contribution to this Blog.

Post date: 09 Feb 2015

Back to listing page