Carrier Bags and Public Sector Change

A 5p charge for carrier bags was introduced in England this week. Nothing significant about that is there?

Well judging by the amount of media coverage over the weekend leading up to the charges being introduced and on the Monday it was introduced, a big deal.


Well it required people to change their habits. Rather than going into the shop and taking it for granted that you would get a bag for your purchases, you would be charged 5p if you didn’t bring your own.

But apparently there were exceptions and there was confusion about who was and wasn’t exempt from charging for a bag.

Change is being demanded in the public sector and is rarely out of the news or absent from a politicians speech or comments.

Looking at events of this week around the 5p carrier bag charge showed just how difficult it is for the public sector and indeed any organisation to make change.

If such a frenzy is created around charging a few pence for a carrier bag, imagine you were a leader or a Board or council having to make decisions and convince others around a change of something significant, such as:

• Moving hospital services further away from where people live
• Closing a library or community centre
• Increasing council tax or hospital parking charges

As events around the 5p carrier bag charge have shown, people don’t like change.

If you are a leader trying to make change you have to carefully consider every decision. You have to communicate the change clearly in multiple ways and finally get the buy in and support of people who by nature don’t like change.

Easy to say but not easy to do.

Duncan Brodie works with public sector organisations in the areas of change and improvement. Learn more here.