True tales from Britain’s public sector (1)

Your editor went for a job interview the other day – at a Higher Education public sector organisation which will remain nameless.

One of the interview questions was “what issues are facing the Higher Education sector at the moment”. The correct answer was “the funding crisis”.

Later (in fact at a second interview) he was sat down in the technical office and asked to complete a test. This started at about 3.15pm.

First of all a young woman glided in. She asked some people in the office if they had any returns to make (of some kind). “No”, they said. She said she’d go and find some people who did. I may be reading too much into it but this had all the hallmarks of a “non-job”. (That is a job which generates no useful, productive, results at all).

Next; two staff in the office started discussing a technical task. It didn’t sound very complicated. It wasn’t very clear why it needed any discussion. They discussed it for about half  an hour. One of them mentioned that someone had been sent “for training”. (Observers of the public sector will know that ‘training’ is required to do anything new; people are never expected to be able to work it out for themselves).  After that these two staff pushed off. It must have been about 3.45 pm at the latest. It was a Wednesday.

A small microcosm of life in the public sector.

In any other country it would be called corruption. But it is so prevalent that it is not seen as such.


There is a ‘political debate’ in this country about public sector spending. One side, driven by the Unions, tells us that there is a crisis of under-funding. The other side, the government, is making cuts in central government grants. Neither side is addressing the real problem – institutionalised graft and corruption.

Instead of talking about the corruption there is an entirely fake discourse about the necessity or not of the ‘austerity agenda’.

Lenin probably had the (only) answer to this – public officials should be elected, instantly recallable and paid no more than the average wage for a working man.



The life and death of a local authority officer (sob sob)

The Guardian often publishes anonymous contributions by public sector staff (managers and above; not anything yukky like, say, dustmen). The “secret teacher”. The “anonymous housing officer”. The “secret policeman”. And so on. Invariably it turns out that the anonymous (why anonymous?) writer is hard-working, over-worked, misunderstood by the public and ill-appreciated by government. Who does nothing but save the vulnerable from morning to night.

There is such a contribution in the Guardian today. It’s called “Council job cuts have finally caught up with me – but I’m relieved“. Let’s take a look, and take the liberty of adding a few comments.

After years of avoiding the axe, redundancy now seems like a release. I won’t miss the insomnia and anxiety caused by the uncertainty of working for a council

Years? So; you’ve enjoyed stable employment for ‘years’? That’s far more than many, many people who work in the private sector, moving from short-term contract to short-term contract. They probably do know what uncertainty means.

Things changed for me last spring, when I was diagnosed with a serious illness. By the time June hit – which tends to be when the annual battle for existence kicks off – I was not at work to spend hours collating the service-saving information I have put together every year since the cuts began

Ah. A local authority officer who goes on long-term sick when things get a little difficult. How unusual.

There seems to be a little admission here; that a large part of your job is spent… producing reports, which justify your job.

I manage a service that works with vulnerable families; we’re cheap and we don’t cause referrals to other services

Oh, where would we be without vulnerable families?

After several operations I returned to work to be told that my team and I were at risk. The formal consultation of our posts is widely accepted as tokenistic and my only priority now is to get the best exit from the council that I can

“At risk”? Nope. Your job is at risk. Not you. If you lose it you’ll have to find another one. And, oh gosh, your top priority is to get as much cash / contacts / benefits-in-kind from the Council before you leave. How unlike a local authority officer. (Don’t worry; many local authorities pay redundancy at significantly over and above their legal requirements – an act of generosity funded by the tax-payer; maybe yours does too?)

Then there’s a reshuffle at the top of the council or highly paid consultants are bought in as a fresh pair of eyes. By July, rumours abound and I start to get anxious.

Your local authority, at a time of acknowledged pressure on budgets, still has money to spend on highly paid consultants to act as a “fresh pair of eyes”? What are local authority managers paid to do and why are they apparently so bad at it that they always need to hire “highly paid consultants” before they can take a decision?

By August it is clear I will have a job on my hands to save the service I work for. So I spend the month poring through our databases and submitting long documents showing how much money our service has saved the council

This is “save” as in “Tesco saves you money every day” presumably?

By October, across children’s services there is a general loss of focus. Morale plummets and people start leaving. Some because they think they will be made redundant. Some because they can’t stomach any more change. The cracks in the system widen further than ever before

Can’t stomach change? That seems a little feeble – when you think about the people who have to change jobs every week as they get posted here and there by their temp agency

December and the truth is out there. The people who belong to services that are safe try and make the most of January to May before it all starts again. The constant nausea disappears and I start to sleep soundly again.

As I drove back to work it occurred to me that lots of the families I have worked with have shaken my hand in the same way. But no-one in the council has ever shaken my hand and I don’t expect that to change as I hold my head high and work my way towards my redundancy date

Well; reading the runes it looks like you did get made redundant? All those hours producing reports about how valuable your department was didn’t convince the management consultant? Perhaps she figured out that a job which is (by all accounts) mostly spent justifying how needed it is is some kind of a non-job?