I’ve just had the misfortune of listening to some of this morning’s phone in on Radio 5, and it left me tearing my hair out in despair.
It all centred around this news story about the public service unions discussing industrial action over forthcoming cuts.
It really does drive me to distraction. Usual pointing out, I am a public sector worker, and come early November, once the spending review has been digested, I will find out how deep and how close to home the cuts in my department are. There’s nothing I can do about it. What happens, happens.
I am not a member of any of the TUC affiliated unions, I’m not interested. I dislike the authoritarian nature of those unions, I dislike their militant tendencies and I’m damned if a single penny of my pay is going, via my subs, to the Labour party. It isn’t happening.
How did we come to be here? Well, there’s a couple of major factors in my mind. Firstly we’ve just come out of 13 years of Labour rule. Quite why people expected a different outcome this time is beyond me. Labour governments always end in bankruptcy and industrial strife. Always, always, always.
For over a decade we had a government that was obsessed with spying on us, monitoring and measuring us, nannying us, telling us what do to, how to do it, when to do it, and regulating us to make sure we complied with all the above. This was a government that really did oversee the introduction of officers to root through people’s bins, to adjudicate on whether people had driven their car in a bus lane for two metres, to go into our schools and tell kids to eat 5 a day.
Like the person who wins the lottery and then lives the next 5 years spending, spending, spending, the money was always going to run out. The levels of expenditure were not sustainable, this money does not magically appear out of thin air, there comes a point when the people you take the money from simply do not have any more to give. The cow has been milked dry.
Secondly, there was a huge shift in the way the civil service (my department at least) did business. It used to be that when someone retired or moved on, people wishing to fill that post from within would apply for the job and would be interviewed etc, etc, before being given the promotion. That all changed, I forget the reasons now, but you can bet that one of the prime motivators was that senior positions did not have adequate representation of women, ethnic minorities, the disabled, the incompetent, and that wasn’t good enough. There was then this programme of ‘assessment centres’ where anyone could apply for their ticket to promotion, and as long as they met the minimum requirements for the promotion (and the criteria and process bore very little relationship to the real life demands of the promotion, it was spectacularly vague and general) then that ticket would be given.
Problem, with all these people being told they could have promotion, there were no promotions to give these people. Solution? Create new jobs for them. When I joined my department, there were six Senior Bottle Washers and one Bottle Cleaning Policy Wonk, if you had any dealings with the Bottle Cleaning Policy Wonk, it was because you’d happened to walk into the toilet when he was there or you’d been very, very bad. In 2010 we have, blimey, I don’t know, over a dozen Senior Bottle Washers, five Bottle Cleaning Policy Wonks and two Directors of Liquid Containment Vessel Management (Cleansing and Deployment). All these people had to be given a responsibility, a staff, a budget and all the trimmings. If this was replicated throughout the civil service, and I bet it was, then the bill must have run to tens, even hundreds of millions of pounds.
Where were the unions? I heard no policies of caution and parsimony from them at the time. Now the credit card bill has arrived and the gnashing of teeth and wailing has started.
So on the radio this morning, we’ve heard the old bogeyman being rolled out. ‘Ooooh, it’s the evil bankers and the evil Tories.’ Bullshit. We’ve been spending for too long. The banks didn’t help, and then spending loads of our money to bail them out when we could have said ‘you’re broke, and? What do you expect us to do about it? Your shareholders can bail you out, or do they only count when there’s dividends to pay and they don’t ask too many questions?’ didn’t help at all.
As for the bonuses. Well, as long as the bank paying it hasn’t taken a penny of public money, they can pay someone a hundred, billion, trillion pounds for all I care. If the shareholders are content with it, then fair enough. If the shareholders’ silence or indifference leads to the bank collapsing, then tough.
Our politicians and senior civil servants have been just as wasteful and as profligate as our failed banks. The bankers were not held to account by their shareholders, and the civil servants have not been held to account by the (warning, management word) stakeholders of the politicians, unions and electorate.
Is it fair that some capable and worthwhile staff (and they do exist) are going to lose their jobs? No. It isn’t, but that is the situation. If you are on an economy drive at home, is it fair that the Chinese restaurant, the video rental shop, the local zoo all lose income as a result? No, it isn’t, but that’s life, if you haven’t got it, you don’t spend it.
This is going to hurt, but it cannot be escaped.
Unions: For years you have stood back and watched as millions of pounds have been pissed up the wall, and you said nothing. You knew the party had to end sometime, but all the while people were joining and donating to whatever causes you saw fit, you kept quiet. You don’t represent peoples’ views and interests, you collect people as if there’s a prize for whoever has the most members. I don’t want to hear people on huge salaries moaning about the inequity of bankers’ pay (as detailed by OH here), it is hypocrisy and you are as self-serving and corrupt as the politicans you have finally decided to rail against.
Public Service Workers: What good do you think going out on strike will do? Will it make the money magically come back? Will Joe Public recoil in horror and take out his wallet? Ask yourself the question ‘will I be missed if I go out?’ If the public will not absolutely miss you as an individual not pushing forms, internal memos, order dockets and the like about, then watch out. You are turning a huge spotlight on and your empty desk is right underneath it.
Public Service Managers: Stop wasting money. Stop introducing idiotic schemes promoting alternative lifestyles, rambling groups, religious awareness seminars. Stop bringing in stupid teams with mad budgets, if your department has managed to soldier on despite a lack of a ‘vital service’ thus far, the chances are it doesn’t need doing now. Sweep away the ridiculous empires which have sprung up in the last ten years. I can think of half a dozen in my department alone. Get rid of them. For every person in these non-squads, there is someone who works in a worthwhile office who is seeing it fall apart because the reason for the existence of the department has been forgotten. You’ve forgotten that you have a clear purpose, and you’ve failed to exercise sufficient control over those below you. They’ve pulled the wool over your eyes whilst their gaze is set on the next promotion. Keep it simple and do what is absolutely required, not what your grasping assistants tell you it would be nice or good to do.
What a bloody mess.