Sometimes, a throwaway comment made by someone else can have real resonance. And so it was a few weeks ago when someone at a conference I attended mentioned (I think it might have beenCarrie Bishop but if not sorry to whoever did say it) that being a policy officer in local government rewarded negativity. Officers were given extra points if they could dissect a piece of policy or another proposal, in as elegant a manner as possible.
The reason that rung true is that it’s not just policy officers; being critical, and having a critical mind, is one of the most sought after traits in local government.
Think back to the last time you sat in on a strategy meeting or something similar. Doubtless there was an officer there who had brought forward a researched and thought through paper that was then dissected by the attending managers. Even those that are supportive will only use their support as a preamble to then depart some piece of critical wisdom.
My Grandad was a man of few words, but he did once tell me a story which has stuck with me, and which came to mind when I was watching last night’s Panorama piece on public sector pay. If you’ll bear with me I’ll relay that story here and hopefully it’ll help illustrate a point.
He had a car back in the day when people could still repair them without the aid of a degree in computer programming, but when it broke down once he was flummoxed. In the end he called out a repair man, who duly turned up with toolbox in hand and took a look under the bonnet. Without a word he reached into his toolbox, pulled out a screwdriver and tightened a screw – within seconds the engine roared into life.
He then handed my Grandad the bill – £30 (and that was in the day when £30 was a lot of money). Incensed, good old Grandad demanded to know why on earth he should pay that amount of money when all he’d seen was a single screw turned. The answer came back that he was only being charged £1 to have the screw turned; he was being charged £29 for the mechanic knowing which screw to turn.
What on earth has this to do with public spending and Panorama I can almost hear you ask?
Last night I was contemplating enjoying the final of Masterchef when my remote control happened upon Channel 4 news. The trail from the newsroom told me that if we could just hang on until 7:35 (way past Masterchef time) the intrepid news team would reveal true scale of local authority spending.
For those who missed the revelations (you didn’t miss much) you can see the full storyhere.
I’m not one to paraphrase too much but the basic tenet of the report was that:
1) Staff in local authorities are sick a lot
2) Some councils have tried to address the problems they have with sickness by offering prizes, incentives etc to reward those staff that have 100% attendance rates.
3) Making staff redundant entails making redundancy payments which can cost a lot of money
And sad to say that was it.
I have numerous problems with Channel 4′s ‘exposé’ and I shall try to be as brief as I can so that this post doesn’t become too ranty. So, in order of the most ridiculous: