It’s probably a publicity stunt, but as a civil servant, I’m feeling quite energised about Cameron’s letter arriving on my doormat or in my pigeon hole. I may be naive, but I like the idea that suggestions I may have to save money could be considered. I dismiss the criticism over the policy of the PM and Chancellor asking the staff for ideas. A good manager will always seek out the opinions and suggestions of his staff, they have a perspective he does not, and may see things he cannot.
Will any of these ideas actually be considered, or even acted upon? I’m sceptical, but it is only fair to give Cameron the chance to fail to live up to his word, he deserves that at the least. The ideas I have (and there are quite a few) that relate purely to my own department would never be entertained by my local management. There are simply too many vested interests, too many empires built that need protecting against the barbarian hordes.
Civil servants come in for a lot of criticism, and rightly so. As a group we have an amazing capacity for officiousness, unaccountability, and an a lack of ability to think ‘outside the box’. However on the ground there is a collection (mainly) of individuals who are frustrated at the crushing box ticking, the restrictive gradist attitude and as recent events have proven at my work place, have a capacity for humanity doing whatever little they can to help (not nanny or manage) those who really do need it.
On the ground floor at my department we have a collection of individuals who care deeply about the job they do and take great pride in doing their job as well as their individual talents and the collective bureaucracy allows. I am proud, with a few exceptions, to call them my colleagues.
When Dave Prentis from UNISON says:
The efficiency savings made over the past three years have cut out most of the waste – there is very little fat left to cut.
He is wrong, wrong, wrong.
There are huge great seams of fat which can be excised, and most of it having very little detriment to the front line. Indeed most of it would be of benefit to the front line. However, and this is the crux of the matter, I have very little faith in the will of my senior local managers to make those cuts, they will always look to target the front line first.
This is because of the empires that have been built. Everyone will accept that cuts have to be made, but the mantra will always be ‘but of course my teams/projects are absolutely vital to the running of the business.’ Once those empires have been ring-fenced, given immunity from the purge, it is always the front line will be damaged, through staff losses or constrictions in resources. The support mechanism starts to become more important than the operation they in place to support.
We’ve already had unofficial word of job losses at my department. I was expecting it. To be fair the totals mooted cover both operational and support posts, and to be even fairer, I think the support workers will probably bear the brunt. But, and it’s a big but, once the cuts have happened, I’m fairly confident that our senior local managers will start to pick off operational staff from the front line to plug the gaps in their little non-teams, for without the little non-teams it becomes more difficult to justify their existence.
It should also be noted that the job loss total semi-rumours which are doing the rounds stop just below the level of the lowest band of senior manager locally, which for ease of illustration, I shall call Band X.
When I started in my job around a decade ago, we had one person in Band X locally. They more or less let staff get on with their jobs. They were the boss. There was no-one higher without going to HQ. If you saw this Band X, you wrote a post-card home to Mum, telling her about it. Now we have. . . I don’t know how many. . . seven? Eight? Band X’s, all trying desperately now to justify their existence. Not only that, but there have been recent listings advertising for more of these. We also have a Band Y and a Band Z.
The result? A top heavy management which leeches off money and resources from the front line, and managers who cannot help getting involved in the smallest details of the operation, an operation that has been run, as far as the bureaucracy allows, perfectly well by the staff on the front line.
There’s the first saving right there.
There are many others too boring and techincal to go into here. I will look forward to drafting my response to Cameron’s letter and posting it off.
What’s in it for Wolfers? I don’t want a bonus, I certainly don’t want a promotion – I don’t sing the right hymns for that. A shake of the hand and a thank-you will be sufficient. That, and the increased ability of my colleagues and I to do our jobs without intereference, with more efficiency and with greater initiative, pragmatism and humanity.
Conscientious civil servants do exist, and there are more of us than you may suspect.