Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A 'Better' Service?

At the outset of the election campaign, (which seems an eternity ago now), I found myself, for no good reason, perusing the department's intranet. Clearly, I must have been bored and was probably simply trying to put off going out onto the streets and dealing with the great British public. I don't recall. Anyway, the long and the short of it is that in the usual patronising message we in the public sector get from our chief executives every time there's an election - basically it reminds us of our duty to be impartial, etc., which we are all the bloody time anyway - one phrase leaped out at me. It warned that whatever the outcome of the election, we would undoubtedly be looking to provide a 'better' service with fewer resources. Now, bearing in mind that we've been cut to the bone, staff wise, already, I was left wondering how exactly this was going to work? For several years now, following the mantra of 'reducing costs', we've been shedding staff. Not just any staff, but generally the most experienced staff, whose skills we really can't afford to lose if we are to have any chance of maintaining anything like a satisfactory standard of service. But, of course, these are also the most expensive staff, on the highest pay bands for their grades.

But then it struck me, it was obvious how we were going to provide 'better' services. We'd simply redefine what's meant by 'better'. Not a lowering of standards, you understand, just a redefinition. After all, what the public sector currently considers a satisfactory level of service is what most of us who have worked there long-term would, a few years ago, have termed 'piss poor'. So, there's the solution - make what we used to call 'unsatisfactory', 'better'. The fact that we don't have sufficient experienced staff to maintain satisfactory service levels need no longer be a problem - just drag what constitutes 'satisfactory service' down to a level which matches the skills of our current inexperienced work force. Hell, it has the advantage of enabling further cuts in expenditure - why bother spending money on staff training when you've effectively de-skilled all of their work by lowering the standards to which they have to perform? Trust me, I'm not joking. This is actually happening. Increasingly, people are having their work activity defined in terms of 'job cards' which spell out exactly what they have to do at each stage of the process. It's cheaper than training them. It also removes any necessity for exercising 'initiative', (something that used to be prized in the public sector, but is now frowned up). The consequence of all this is that staff can no longer deal with any unexpected development, resulting in frequent chaos and log jams. But not to worry - it's a 'better' service, isn't it?

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