The Judge RANTS!
"I Am Not A Pen-Pusher, I Am A Human Being"
Sometimes, I get genuinely angry. Not just the anger
can be carefully manufactured and called upon in aid of the need to
write pieces on this page, but a true, burning anger. The trouble is
that, in such circumstances, it is difficult to type accurately, but
I'll have a go...
On Monday last week Gordon Brown, Her Majesty's Chancellor Of
Exchequer and One-Eyed-Jack-In-Office, announced that he intended to
axe the jobs of over 100 000 civil servants over the next four years.
This was a substantial increase on the number he had previously stated
in his Budget back in the Spring of the year, which was bad enough in
As before, there had been no warning to, or consultation with,
very people who are most directly affected by this policy. Moreover,
Brown delivered the news with all the solemnity and gravitas of
a fairground huckster. He was quite plainly enjoying himself hugely. So
were the ya-yas (so called on account of their brays of
approval) on the Government back-benches, who could scarcely contain
There was a time when one could still expect better of the
Party. No longer. It has been transformed under its current (for want
of a better term) leadership into a me-too, free-marketeering (*) mob.
The 'end of ideology' in the party has been marked by a similar
extinction of any notion of principle or purpose in it as well.
So we come to the pretty pass whereby a Labour
without any qualms, can delight in creating unemployment in the very
sector which it used to regard as sacrosanct.
The media's response was thoroughly predictable. I watched the
early evening news on five
on Monday. The reporter used the same old clichés which are
trotted out any time the civil service is mentioned; terms like "faceless
bureaucrats" and "pen-pushers" tumbled torrentially from
his mouth. We also had the stock shots we've all come to know and love
(not!) of a rear view of a man in a pin-stripe suit and a bowler hat,
carrying (of course) a furled black umbrella. Our tame hack also seemed
to be enjoying himself hugely as he lovingly rehearsed the Government's
But then, what better could we expect? five's news
programmes are provided by Sky News, owned by Rupert Murdoch, that
master peddler of the simplistic to simpletons. And yet, the other
broadcasters were scarcely any better. Although I didn't see it, I'm
told that BBC News used much the same imagery (although in their case,
it seems, they had animated graphics of men in pin-stripes and bowlers,
between which Brown and Tory leader Michael Howard strode like the
Burke and Hare of modern administration).
One does not expect the Great British Newspaper to be unbiased,
however, and it is only fair to say in their defence that they did not
let their fine old traditions down. What was particularly galling (at
least to me, as a regular reader of some years' standing) was the
attitude taken by a supposedly-liberal newspaper such as The
Guardian. It, too, had joined the ranks of the cheerleaders for
Gordon Scissorhands. Polly Toynbee contributed a column which was
egregiously ingratiating even by her high standards. No mention was
made of the people who would lose their jobs; only praise for the
Chancellor's "shrewdness" in "shooting the Tories' fox",
in that slashing the public sector was one of the few policies with
which the Conservative Party could still truly tempt that small
minority of the electorate in that small number of constituencies whose
results determine all our destinies in the cock-eyed electoral system
we suffer with.
In the same newspaper Will Hutton, überbrain of
strain of thinking which believes that globalised capital is the
ultimate good, and only needs a bit of presentational tweaking to make
it something akin to an eternal truth; he too avoided any mention of
the grubby business of throwing dedicated people out of work,
concentrating instead on telling us how there needs to be a revolution
in management techniques to ensure that the cuts can be shoved through
with the maximum of ruthless efficiency.
The Guardian did allow someone to write an article
(tucked away in one of its supplements) bemoaning not only the proposed
cuts but the general attitude underlying them. That someone was the
former head of the department I work for, who himself had been
responsible for some howlers in his time (including the signing over of
a huge building maintenance contract to a company based in a Caribbean
tax-dodge paradise); but his defence of us was as welcome as it was
rare this week.
The letters pages, too, have been dominated by the same
stereotypical vision of "pen-pushers". By implication and
direct statement alike, we are unnecessary encumbrances to the land;
talentless obfuscators whose only purpose is to place needless
obstructions on the highway to The Golden Future Of Untrammelled
Freedom. If we got rid of them, the argument runs, then
no-one would have to wait for hospital treatment and our pensioners
could afford champagne every day of the week.
Well, hold on there a moment, you slash-and-burners! Do you ever
pause to think? And if you do, do you ever pause to think about how it
is possible for public services to be provided?
One of the ways in which Brown has sought to sell these cuts to
public is by claiming that the people whose jobs are deemed expendable
are merely "support staff", "back-room personnel", and
the money saved by not having to pay them anymore would be used to
increase the resources available to "front-line services".
This is a false division. How are the "front-line services"
to be provided if there is a shortage of people working behind the
scenes to ensure that the people on "the front-line" (curious
how often military metaphors and images are invoked where they are
totally inappropriate) can actually provide the service?
I work in an office which has a combination of the two. There
those (the majority) who have direct dealings with the public (or 'customers',
as we must now call them), and there are those who provide the
wherewithal for them to do so. Our colleagues know that, without the
people who distribute the stuff that comes in, arrange necessary
supplies, and try to ensure that the IT and telephone systems are
running, they couldn't do their jobs properly if at all. We (there!
I've finally openly declared my interest) are as essential as they are
in running public services.
So, if over 100 000 support staff are to go, where is the
for all this expansion to come from? Two likely answers are already
apparent from recent experiences. The first is to replace in-house
staff with private contractors. That this is invariably less
satisfactory in terms of quality and more expensive than using in-house
resources has been borne out by review after review; but so long as it
doesn't appear on the bottom line of the balance sheet, then it doesn't
matter too much. The second is the replacement of experienced staff by
a constant turnover of temporary workers, all on short-term contracts
and, as full workers' rights need not be accorded them in the areas
which might conceivably cost money, this too will look good in the
accounts. In neither case could it be claimed by anyone with more than
a nodding acquaintance with reality that this will provide the same
quality or depth of service which is already being provided by staff
who look on serving the public as their career; yet political
expediency will undoubtedly triumph yet again, and the pieces will have
to picked up long after our current generation of rulers are safely
beyond the reach of censure.
I am not saying that there is no scope for better use of
in the public services, however. The trouble is that those areas where
the most footling and wasteful activities are carried out are the least
likely to be pruned back; indeed, their activities are far more certain
to expand. I refer, of course, to Management.
The greatest proportionate increase in activity in most civil
service departments in recent years has been as a direct and inevitable
consequence of the mania for 'targets' and 'performance indicators'
resulting from senior figures in Government having been taken in by
that modern-day equivalent of the quack doctor, the 'management
consultant'. They it is who have advocated the whole culture of
piddling micro-management which has had the effect of ME on public
organisations. The 'customer' (a word they force us to use, however
ludicrous it appears in context - one is not, for example, a
'customer' for Birmingham New Street railway station; when buying a
ticket to travel there, one doesn't intend buying the bloody
thing) must be shown that we are 'achieving', whatever it is we are
supposed to achieve (apart from keeping MBA holders in the style to
which they are now accustomed).
All these 'targets' and 'indicators' must be measured, of
which means that records must be kept. The practical upshot of this, as
any teacher or police officer might readily attest, is that an
increasing amount of time is spent filling in forms (either in paper or
electronic form) to account for what we do and how long it takes us to
do it. I should hardly need to draw a flowchart or devise a
PowerPoint™ slideshow to demonstrate that the amount of time spent
doing this, and the amount of time spent analysing the results, takes
up large chunks of time and energy which could (should) be spent doing
the work being recorded and pored over by the haruspexes of business
In order to keep these pointless processes under control, more
managers are required. Thus there has been a near-exponential growth in
the number of management positions created in the last decade or so.
This sector expands with every reorganisation (equally frequent in
recent times), and results in the inevitable percentage decrease in the
number of people actually carrying out the work which the organisation
is there supposedly to do.
Unfortunately, I see no signs of this tendency even slowing
let alone being reversed. And so we are likely to end up with more and
more managers, managing fewer and fewer actual 'workers', especially as
those remaining staff, 'front-line' and 'support' alike, are likely to
be first against the wall the next time a desperate and
ambitious politician feels the need to pander to the prejudices of that
small section of our society which believes that high-quality public
services can be got on the cheap, and by hiving them off to whatever
private company can most effectively grease its way into the
Government's affections. And if that means that tens of thousands of
people who, despite the low pay and the ever-increasing pressures, have
committed themselves to serving the public; people who have never worn
a pin-striped suit other than at a wedding or funeral; people who would
laugh out loud at the sight of anyone wearing a bowler hat; if it means
that these people (and their families) are deemed expendable, then who
cares? Except, of course, those dependent upon the services we provide
when they find that those services are not as easy to obtain and not as
effective as they used to be.
By which time it will be far too late.
(* When I ran this piece through the spell-checker, it
changing 'marketeer' to 'racketeer'. How perceptive...)