Baskers World

Attacking the Civil Service again


When does it stop?

When do I stop feeling like I’m under constant attack?

I picked this up on Twitter from the @TweetMinster account. “The Civil Service is the problem

It wasn’t what I was expecting to see on a Sunday morning when I was sorting out my mails, domestics, washing etc, yet another attack from a person who is a Conservative member of Parliament. So I stopped what I was doing, tried to calm down a little and compose my thoughts on the matter.

I have worked my ass off these last few years, to get that promotion, to get that new job, to learn new skills, to deliver against extremely challenging circumstances and it shows in my exceeded performance reports for the last couple of years. In other professions, when your management constantly belittle you about your performance, your pay, your very worth when you *are* delivering, it’s called bullying. It’s called harassment. It’s completely demoralising. And if it continues you can find yourself in court eventually.

So why is it that it’s okay for my “Management” i.e. my political masters (not my direct management) and those in direct support of them to constantly attack the organisation I work in?  I get the messages from up above, informing me in the typical Civil Service manner that new legislation is coming in to change our terms and conditions without the need to negotiate. To make it cheaper, easier for our political masters to get rid of us.

And lets not sugar coat it.

It’s not about streamlining and making the Civil Service more efficient. It’s about the brutal unfocused cutting of headcount, cutting costs, cutting the strength of the unions (PCS & FDA), cutting the very heart out of the Civil Service and as the Guardian SCS Secret Blogger put it, creating a “Tesco Value Civil Service”

“But we need to move on and get real. This isn’t an argument about public sector services or private sector services – it is about what services you have at all. Plans are being finalised now to create a Tesco Value state with a much smaller range and the public sector will need to change rapidly to deliver it.

I pondered this puzzle as I put the phone down on yet another private sector supplier offering his services. “I am sorry,” I said. “Your offer sounds wonderful but unless it’s free I am not interested. All our money has gone.” They are getting the same answer across government. Here at my desk was a microcosm of the British economy. The supplier will have to downsize now, they may even go bust. In time my team and I will join them on the scrapheap.

How, I ask, can this not lead to another recession?”

If we do end up in another recession – where are these magical jobs going to materialise from in the private and third sector when we throw over 600,000 Public Sector workers onto the scrap heap? I fail to understand how that strategy is of benefit to UK GDP and the overall welfare benefits costs.

I also fail to understand why it is deemed acceptable to continue with the attacks in the press and on political blogs against the Civil Service. What did we do that was so bad that merits these constant attacks? Did we commit murder? fraud? espionage?, sexual abuse? terrorism? Genocide?

Of course there has been mistakes i.e. delayed projects, overspending – but you show me where that hasn’t happened in the Private Sector or elsewhere? It has. Bad Project Management or ill thought out strategy decisions don’t just happen within the Civil Service, they happen across all sectors of industry and employment yet you don’t see laws being changed or full scale media wars waged against them constantly.

What other employer in this country can change the law when they feel like it? It’s atrocious and a mockery of justice and the political process that changes to legislation can be pushed through parliament to make changes to the Civil Service Compensation Scheme (that have twice been found unlawful in the High Courts of Justice) without even the slightest hint of negotiating with the Unions.

In other sectors of employment, the employers are forced to meet with the Unions and hammer out a mutually agreed settlement – I struggle to understand why this isn’t the case for the Civil Service? Are we not eligible for the same due process? Where does it stop? Shall the door be opened for other employers to just change the law when they want to force through changes to their workers terms and conditions? Shall we legislate to disband the Unions all together?

All Civil Servants have done is to carry out and administer the delivery of Government Policy as voted by MPs in the Houses of Parliament. The Civil Service doesn’t vote on policies, we don’t create them. The Government of the time is responsible for their own policies. Government Policies, the mis-management of the financial industry and the economy has gotten us to the position we are in. Not the Civil Service.

So I ask again.

Why is it deemed acceptable to constantly attack the Civil Service?

Any worthwhile manager knows that if you continue to belittle and devalue your staff you won’t get the best performance out of them. You’ll have a team and organisation that is completely demoralised, shell shocked, locked into despair and won’t be operating at optimal efficiency – and surely at this time when we are supposed to be doing “More with Less” these ‘attacks’ kind of go against that what is trying to be achieved.

How can we do more with less, when we can’t even see the light at the end of the tunnel? I don’t think we’ve *ever* been informed as to what this new coalition government wants out of the Civil Service, or what shape it is to become and what it’s expected to deliver, except reduce costs, reduce size and look to outsource as much as possible.

What is the “Vision” for the Civil Service? I can’t see any clear vision apart from a clear cost and size reducing agenda, but with no idea as to what the end “state” is to be – i.e. a Tesco Value Civil Service?

I will return back to my chores this Sunday, trying not to think about the brief flash of anger and despair at reading that article. I am looking forward to taking a few well earned days off later this week to go back home to Dundee to see my new niece and nephew, and to enjoy the Dundee Blues Bonanza. My only dilemma is do I or don’t I take the work Blackberry with me?

Last time I had a day off, I forgot to take the Blackberry out of my jacket and did indeed end up sorting through work mails and dealing with various issues on my day off. When I did turn it off, it didn’t help because all I got was phone calls direct on my personal mobile, “I‘ve sent through urgent papers for you to brief on, can you give me a response urgently“… No, it’s my day off. I haven’t had a day off in months… “Well can you look at it first thing when you get in tomorrow?“….err that’s on top of the pre-reading I have to do for the Design Authority meeting that afternoon, the pre-reading for the Gateway Review Course the day after, dealing with the whole HR process in breaking up my team and negotiating with other line managers to move staff across, updating the Risk Registers etc “.. But I need you to do this, just give me high level points to take..“… Okay, so I’ll do it. I end up taking papers home after my meetings and spend my evening, *my* free time that I’m not getting paid for to try and keep on top of everything. I forgot that I’m supposed to be a lazy civil servant, and then I see in the paper;

I work in Finance.

I’m tired.

This entry was published on July 18, 2010 at 12:55 pm. It’s filed under Civil Service, Government, Strategy and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

10 thoughts on “Attacking the Civil Service again

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Attacking the Civil Service again « Baskers World --

  2. Callum on said:

    Wholeheartedly agree with everything you’ve said there. It’s completely rediculous that they expect more from a dramatically reduced headcount. I don’t even like to imagine what it’s going to be like when the cuts come in…

    Well done!

  3. Oh dear, things sound very bad indeed. The writing has been on the wall for a while and it was easy to see (an unfair) backlash looming, regardless of who won the last election, even before left at the beginning of 09. I feel your pain and wish it wasn’t so.

  4. Good post. There are lots of issues facing the civil and public sector at the moment, and the continued criticism and attacks are extremely damaging to morale, which doesn’t make the task ahead any easier. It’s very easy for commentators to demonise the sector in abstract terms without taking into account the individuals involved, or the valuable work they (still) do.

  5. I can’t help feeling that the problem in the UK is that our political ‘masters’ are hardly that. We’ve always had this tussle between governments frustrations with Civil Servants who don’t – as they see it – focus on the priorities of the elected government – and Civil Servants who value expertise over political short-termism.

    Isn’t the problem that the top layer of the Civil Servant is a permanent one rather than the in-and-outers that are found in most other countries?

    If you won an election and convincingly took control of the government, you’d probably be a good deal more focussed on motivating the civil service and treating them the way any employer who wanted their staff to achieve their goals would do?

    This ‘civil service independence’ is an untenable chimera that only serves to protect the very top of the civil service. It does no-one else any favours. Unfortunately, like so many aspects of our reified ‘constitution’, it’s deemed to be unassailable. In this respects, it allows a Tory party riddled with crude libertarians to attack the very concept of government without taking responsibility for the performance of the government machine.

  6. Thanks for the comments guys.

    I’m not saying that the cuts don’t need to happen. I agree that the remit and size might of the Civil Service might have gotten too big.

    But don’t just cut for the sake of cutting.

    Stop and think about what is really needing to be achieved, and what the longer term strategy is for the Civil Service and the shape of Government.

    These constant attacks from MPs and the press, with little or no support from even higher up in the Civil Service (being seen to actively refute the allegations) leave a lot of us, working in Central, Local and the frontline in Government feeling completely devalued, demoralised and our self esteem left in tatters.

    The fact that our employer is now actively seeking to change the law instead of negotiating with the Unions is just sheet madness!

    Have they any idea how this is making the very people that work for them feel?

  7. Ah Paul, I’d posted before I saw your comment.

    I do agree (somewhat) with your analysis in the fact that the performance of the Government machine and the Government that is in place at the time is somewhat disconnected with a dis-jointed sense of independence/impartiality from the Civil Service.

    I don’t have any answers to that as of yet – I’d like to see what Sir Gus O’Donnell (head of the Civil Service) and the current Government think about that. And if change is to happen that it *is* negotiated, that it is thought of as a long term strategy with a clear vision as to what it wants to achieve.

    Right now, there’s just lots of questions, frustrations, attacks and finger pointing with little or no answers or any sight of everyone sitting down to the table to discuss this in a rational manner.

  8. Sally on said:

    The civil servants I know – and I know many – are hard working, loyal, professional and knowledgeable. It is easy for the government-of-the-day to be critical of the civil/public service as to the newly incoming government, it is an easy way to attack the outgoing government. What governments don’t seem to grasp is that civil servants serve the people on behalf of the government – whatever government that happens to be. If a new government takes a hatchet to the rank and file, it does not in any way make for a more efficient government or service delivery. It seriously demoralizes those who remain as the workload per se doesn’t decrease; it means those left have extra work to do, or services (that the general population have come to rely on) are cut. Sorry for the long comment but I am astonished at what I see Britain’s coalition government doing to the civil service in Britain, not only through your blog but from other reports/news items as well.

  9. Against Easy on said:

    It’s the easy option to attack the Civil Service and wield the axe without being clear about what needs to be achieved by who and by when. When ‘something’ needs to be done this is ‘something’, even when it’s thoughtless and takes no account of the short or long term impact. Knee jerk reactions are purely short term

  10. “Right now, there’s just lots of questions, frustrations, attacks and finger pointing with little or no answers or any sight of everyone sitting down to the table to discuss this in a rational manner.”

    That’s a political problem. The political weather is still being made decidedly by an opportunistic bunch of right-wing outliers who are ideologically opposed to any real role for the state.

    A large section of the Conservative Party take the view that a spot of chaos that can be attributed to the civil service will legitimise a further …. er ….. *outsourcing* to the people that they went to school with.

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