Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 23/08/08

Hate Of Eight

Warning! This is a long piece.

I've never particularly liked August.

Back when I was a kid, it was always a month which tended to be too hot. It was after we'd come back from our holiday. And it was too near to the time when I had to go back to school.

It's seldom been a happy month in my family anyway. My sister was born in August - she died from leukaemia when she was two. My mother and my brother's mother-in-law died in August, one year apart. It was the occasion of a wedding for a marriage which lasted scarcely a year more.

I balance that out slightly by saying that I have a very pretty great-niece who was born in August, so there's some recompense.

This August, however, is one I can't wait to see the end of.

For one thing, there's the weather. It may be unfair to blame August, because we've scarcely had a period of unalloyed good weather since early June, but I think one has the right to expect better of August than what we've had. It has meant that I haven't been able to go anywhere or even do anything much - not even the gardening (and the cats are still crapping on my lawn, I'll have you know).

There's a big hole at the front corner of the house, which I came home to on Tuesday. They're renewing the gas pipes along our road, apparently. No advance warning of this was given. They've uncovered part of the pipe which leads into the house, and I'm worried about whether the rest of it is going to run right under the flower bed in which I have my recently-sown cornflowers and calendulas.

Another annoyance: I downloaded a torrent file of an animation series which was a particular favourite of mine in my late teens so that I could see what it was like in the original Japanese rather than the sanitised and infantilised American version I saw back then. When the download had finished - it took a number of nights to do this because I don't have a fast broadband connection and because if I do it at night it doesn't count towards my usage figures - I found that out of sixty-odd video files only a handful or so worked. So I've had to start from scratch.

And then there's work.

I try not to mention my work here. This is partly because I can't imagine anyone in their right mind finding it particularly interesting. It's also partly self-preservation. I doubt if the Depratment has an actual policy on its minions blogging (other than whatever they can make up when it suits them), so there are few if any indications of what I may or may not say.

Right now, however, I just don't give a fuck. This is why:

In 1998, I was just a newly-promoted Assistant Officer (AO), and I did the sort of work that AOs in the Depratment do: processing documents, dealing with enquiries and requests from the public, that sort of thing.

By a sequence of uninteresting events, I got involved in helping keep the Depratment's varyingly-decrepit IT systems functioning at a local level - hence the job title of 'Local Administrator' (LA).

This job had previously been the reserve of the Officer (O) grade - the one above mine - but by that stage they were asking anyone who was interested to do the job. I was interested; it was far more interesting than what I'd been doing up to then (although I did both jobs side-by-side for a couple of years).

It rankled a bit that some of us were doing the job at a lower grade than had previously been the case - indeed, the clerical grade below ours were allowed to do it as well. So we looked on with hope when the Depratment announced in the summer of 2000 that they were going to do a grading review on the job. At last, we thought, here's our chance to get advancement.

After about seven months, the review was complete and was published. We discovered to our dismay that, in their view, there was not one LA job, but two: yes, one at O grade and another at AO grade. So we were stuck in the lower grade.

I didn't mind all that much, because I enjoyed doing the job and it was a considerable improvement on what else I could be doing there.

Wind forward to 2006. I'm still there, doing the same job as the higher grade LAs but for a lower salary and status. At this point, the technical aspects of the job were outsourced to the usual bunch of chancers, leaving only service allocation and general administrative functions behind with the Civil Service. I could have transferred over to the contractor like some of my colleagues did, but it wouldn't have suited me and I wasn't going to take the risk (see here and here for the background).

In the light of the change in the nature of the job, they then decided to carry out another grading review. After a few weeks, they reported...

...And had come to the conclusion that, although the job was far less technical than before, it was now appropriate only to the O grade. The reasons given for this, when I asked a senior manager for them, were hardly convincing; they were so thin that you could see right the way out the other side.

So what was to become of those of us who were still doing the job at the lower grade? Were we to be given the grade appropriate to the job we'd been doing all this time?

Were we bollocks! We were told that, over a period of a few months we would be removed from our jobs and 'placed' in one of the other dozens of business streams that the Depratment had broken (and I mean broken) into following the stupid merger of the two previously separate departments earlier that year.

To speed this process up, we were placed in what is termed 'pre-surplus' status. Put simply, if any job came up at our grade, we were to be forced to apply for it irrespective of our desire (or ability) to do it, with the only protection being that it had to be within what the Depratment deemed to be reasonable daily travelling distance.

For nearly two years I've soldiered on, doing my job to the best of my ability, and gaining the support, praise and appreciation of my managers and colleagues alike. The amount of work has not diminished - especially since a couple of reorganisations of team boundaries - and the job itself was not deemed to be surplus to requirements; indeed, the only reason why our office was not considered a 'strategic site' for this work was because I was suddenly the 'wrong' grade.

And then came last week. They were looking for more AOs to do processing work (i.e. the sort of work I'd been doing nine years before). Under the rules of being 'pre-surplus', I was forced to apply for one of the positions. I stated on my application that I wasn't remotely interested in it and, as there were a number of other people applying who had far more recent relevant experience than me I though I might still have dodged the bullet.

On Wednesday morning, a senior processing manager came over to me and asked me to what degree I was interested in these posts. I reminded him that I had stated 'minimal', simply because that was the most polite way of putting it. He said to me that he envisaged I would be of great benefit to his business stream because of my IT skills, and would be advising managers on how to make service requests for their staff and generally holding their hands. I replied that he was seriously mistaken; the moment I was forced out of my current job would be the moment when any involvement I had with administering the IT system or requests for change would totally cease. He said that he understood my position, and there the conversation ended. He went off to (as I thought) ponder whether, as I had advised him, I would be of more use to his business stream staying where I was.

I say 'as I thought' because scarcely more than an hour later, I received a letter from his manager (who was the 'jobholder') congratulating me - congratulating me, if you bloody well please! - on being given one of the jobs on offer.

Apart from the suspicion that the conversation I had had shortly beforehand was, in the light of this, completely superfluous in that the decision had clearly already been taken by that point, what I found particularly out of order was that they had made this decision (and identical ones affecting two other people) over a week before the closure date for applications. The number of jobs remaining for others to apply for had therefore been reduced by three even before the process was supposed to have concluded. This is not the way to make me think that decisions are made in an ethical and fair fashion.

I can't refuse the job, however. Well, I can, in theory, but if I do they will order me to take it anyway, with disciplinary procedures to follow if I still refuse (for 'insubordination', which makes it sound like we're in the fucking military. We are: Fred Karno's bloody Army).

So five weeks from now, despite everything, I will move from a job that I not only enjoyed doing but was bloody well good at, to a job where I'm going to need to be completely retrained from scratch and which I am going to find extremely boring and not commensurate with my skill level - after all, it's the same job as I was doing in 1999. Career progression? Oh sure....

So there I am - totally shafted. After years of commitment and enthusiasm, I'm to lose the job simply in order to make a bunch of beancounters' numbers match up and so that senior managers can claim in their next cosy chat with the Minister that they're succeeding in bringing down the numbers of all those backroom staff whom absolutely everybody knows aren't needed - until they're no longer there, of course. When that happens, instead of all business streams having just one set of support services to go to, every business stream will have to (and indeed have already started to) create its own mini-support sector. This is what our whelk-stall failures of 'leaders' call 'streamlining' and 'efficiency'. I'll leave you to guess what I call it - otherwise the 'F' key on this computer is going to wear out.

To say I'm not looking forward to September 29 is an understatement. I know that attempts will be made to make me backtrack on my promise that I will have nothing to do with IT after the move, and I'm going to have to be determined to resist this, come what may.

On top of which, the work I'm moving to is subject to the glorious idiocies of 'LEAN' (see here for what that leads to). I have an extremely low tolerance threshold for bullshit, especially when it comes from those quack doctors of our age called 'management consultants', and the first time I am told that I can't put my coat on the back of my chair - or even that my banana is not allowed to be inactive - is the moment that the sewage farm will start to hit the windmill.

Colleagues have expressed their shock at the cavalier way in which I've been treated, and managers in other business streams are wondering who is going to advise or assist them now (because I've made it plain that I won't do it anymore). They're also going to find out the hard way how much I actually did for the office, much of it beyond my official remit.

In the light of all I've just said, it probably won't come as a surprise to you that I am now actively looking for work elsewhere. The Depratment is sinking, the senior officers of the ship are all stoned out of their mind on Château Merde-de-taureau and the crew is drowning in the bilges. I want out.

(It could even be that posting this Rant will bring them down upon my neck and force the issue. So be it).

The trouble is, to where? Anywhere where I'm appreciated, obviously, and where I'm treated as if I and my skills really matter. The problem is, all of my skills have been gained by experience rather than by pieces of paper, and are not easily expressible in CVs and formal applications.

I tried Jobcentre Plus' Job Search feature. I found that it doesn't work with Firefox despite the head of that organisation saying two years ago that the problem was about to be fixed. Something similar happened when I tried the equivalent on Sainsbury's website (there's a branch near our office, I have a nephew working there, and they owe me one after all the money I've spent there down the years). I'm just looking, looking, looking. And I won't stop until I find something that will get me out of a Department I long ago stopped feeling proud of working in. The plague of managerialism has alighted upon the beast, and quality and commitment count for nothing if the bloody statistics can't be massaged.

Does anyone in the Wrexham area want to employ an opinionated fortysomething who wants an interesting job that he can commit himself to without being undermined by arse-covering placemen (and women) who don't care for quality or enthusiasm, only for their own position? If so, please get in touch by e-mailing webmaster(at)judgemental.plus.com. All genuine offers appreciated.