This Is Not A
Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
I've a big decision to take in the next few days.
I'm not used to big decisions. One of the reasons I joined the
civil service fifteen years ago was to avoid the terrible job-jumping
most people have to go through. I don't like that uncertainty; I like
to know where my next pay cheque is coming from (and when). I've been
unemployed: I don't like it at all. The poverty is bad enough, but when
you're treated like something that you might tread in by the very
people who are allegedly there to help you, it makes things much, much
worse. So, I don't ever want to go there again.
I've always tried to avoid talking about my job here, partly out of
fear of the reactions of my employer and colleagues, and partly because
other people's work-talk simply isn't interesting to others: too many
in-jokes or contexts which take so long to explain that your audience
has long lost the plot (along with its will to live).
Sometimes, though, I feel I must. If this is my blog, and if this
website is vanity publishing on a planetary scale, then I might as well
avail myself of the facility.
OK, here's the story so far: for about twelve years, the
Depratment's IT services have been partially outsourced to the private
sector. This has comprised the development of new systems and the
second- and third-line IT support arrangements.
The original holders of the contract were the lamentable EDS, but
their performance was so bad that even the current Government of
poltroons recognised that, when the contract came up for renewal in
2004, there was no way they could be allowed to hold on to it. So, in
June 2004, the new contract was awarded to a consortium which
comprised, among others, a firm of accountants. Not that it made a
great deal of difference: most of the staff transferred from the one
contract to the other. At times, it has seemed that only the letterhead
Part of the new contract (one which we weren't told about at the
time) included an expansion of the contractors' role into front-line IT
support as well.
This is where I come in. Having started off as a lowly clerk,
eventually scrabbling up to the next (Officer) grade after about seven
years, I gradually moved sideways into IT, becoming a fully-trained IT
Support Officer (or 'Local Administrator', as they were then called) in
the Spring of 1999. And there, with minor excursions into other
additional duties, I've been ever since.
Until now. The expansion of the contractor into first-line support
has now been arranged; if one can use such an orderly expression as
'arranged' for the utter balls-up the Depratment has made of it. Having
had nearly two years to get it sorted, they've tried to shove the whole
thing through in a matter of about six months. The whole shooting match
is due to come into effect from April 3.
Here's how it works at present: if any of our people have a
problem, they e-mail or phone us to report it. In two-thirds of cases,
me and my three colleagues can resolve the problem within a short
time-scale, and the Help Desk doesn't get involved at all. If we can't
resolve it, we then report it to them via a web interface. They then
either resolve it without any further involement from us, or ask us to
do something, or say "this is a known problem, and it'll all be
sorted out when we switch from Windows NT to XP later this year"
Under the new system, users will have to call a Local Rate number
and speak to someone at the Support Desk (which could be 150 miles or
more distant) and try to explain to them what the problem is. We've all
had experience of something like this in our private lives, haven't we?
And it works superbly, doesn't it? Doesn't it!? I can't hear
If the Support Desk can't resolve it themselves, they will either
pass it on to specialist teams or pass it back down to what are termed
'User Support Teams' (USTs). These will be based through the office
network, and will basically be dogsbodies; the foot-soldiers, if you
like. In a way, they will do some of the jobs we do now, except that
they will not be allowed to do anything other than what they are told
to do by the Support Desk.
These USTs will no longer be employed directly by the Department;
instead, they will be employees of the contractor. And herein lies my
dilemma, dear reader.
Those of us who currently do the job have been given the
opportunity of transferring to the contractor from April 1. Most of our
terms and conditions of employment will, supposedly, be protected under
law (the so-called TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings to the Private
Sector) provisions). But, as I say, we would no longer be able to
resolve problems ourselves, doing only as we are directed to do.
There will be some IT-related work staying within the Department.
But here's where the picture gets well and truly vandalised. Back at
the end of 2005, we were required to state our preference: stay or go.
At that time, the understanding was that the whole of the IT
work would be outsourced. On that basis, one of my colleagues ruled
himself out of transferring at that early stage (another colleague is
about to retire, so didn't give a shit anyway). Me and one other
expressed a preference to transfer, but only because we
understood the whole job was going, and that doing so was the only way
we were going to find out any further details about what transferring
would actually involve.
The contractor called us all to 'roadshows' in December, and then
to one-to-one meetings in early February so that we could ask any
questions we had. Note, this was the contractor's idea, not our
My initial reaction was not to transfer, but after these
discussions I moved the other way, thinking at the time that it was my
only chance of not being shoved back into the mainstream of the
Department's day-to-day work.
Then, in the second half of February, scarcely six weeks before we
had to make a final, irrevocably-binding decision, the whole situation
changed. Here's the main reason why:
The people in charge of the outsourcing project in the Department
had kept as much information as possible from other interested parties,
even from the contractors themselves. The reasons? I can only surmise,
but knowing their modus operandi from past experience, I
suspect a combination of internal politics and empire-building. When
other, equally important, sections of the organisation managed to find
out what was being planned, the sewage farm hit the windmill. This was
particuarly true in the case of the proposed handing over to the
contractor of near-total control of secure access to the Department's
systems. In this case, the people responsible for the security of our
IT systems hit the bloody roof. You see, the web interface we
use for allowing and denying access, for allocating and removing
services, for general user administration, has no audit trail on it!
The Audit section went ape-shit; their message could best be summed up
in the words, "Over our dead bodies; or, for preference, over
The thing is, this is a substantial proportion of the work which we
have been doing, and if it were to remain in-house, that meant there
would still be IT-related work in the Department. Of a somewhat
different nature, in that the problem-solving elements would no longer
feature, but there all the same.
There are other considerations linked in with this. As the plans
had to be changed at the last minute, it still hasn't been made
clear exactly how much of this work is staying in-house, who will do
it, where, and for how long. High-level meetings are taking place on a
daily basis to try to thrash this all out. All the same, I and
similarly-placed colleagues throughout this Empire Of The Senseless
have to make a far-reaching, career-affecting, irreversible
decision by the end of next Friday (March 31)!
How the hell are we supposed to be able to do this when important
decisions have yet to be made at the very top; when important
information is withheld not only from us but from our managers; and
when we've been treated with such contempt?
This is why it's so difficult. You see, I am against outsourcing
not only on the basis of bitter experience of having to deal with the
consequent disruption and falling quality of service which inevitably
results (and our end-users are really in for a bad case of
culture shock once it all kicks in), but also on the grounds of
principle. But the cavalier way in which the top echelons of the
Department have behaved towards us in recent months is enough to push
me into the private sector. Even more galling is this; the senior
management of the organisation apparently issued a message saying that
they valued us too much to want to lose us. The message never reached
And yet...I've grown too fond of stability of employment, having
suffered the opposite in those years when I was supposed to have been
making my way in the world. Although I would retain most of my terms
and conditions on transfer, I would also retain the disadvantages of
it, e.g. a shit salary. I could, should I choose, transfer over fully
into the company itself; but, for all the prospect of better pay, that
would also mean that they could, to a large extent, do what they liked
with me, e.g. make me redundant. And there we are again.
So, in the next five days, I face having to choose, on the basis of
partial information, whether to move to the comparative uncertainty of
a new employer in the private sector, although with a job which in my
view is of lower status than what I do now; or to stay in the
Depratment, carry on doing the more administrative aspects of the job
(which I quite enjoy), but face the possibility of redeployment into
front-line services in either a few months or a couple of years.
I'm not ambitious. I never really have been. I'm not thrusting,
dynamic, go-getting, and all the other clichés of
this piratical age. Those of you who embody one or other of these
alleged virtues will say that my decision is what (in another awful
modern barbarism) is termed a 'no-brainer'. Go! But, it's not so simple
when you're sitting inside it.
Decisions. I hate them. And yet, decide I must.
I will. I just don't know which way yet.
Can I come back to you on this?