Friday, 16 January 2009

Digby Jones And The Civil Service

Our hero, believes that many civil servants deserve the sack and that government could be more efficient if people simply did what he said. Not a team player, evidently. This story reminds me of the man who was phoned by his wife to warn him of a local radio newsflash that a car was being driven the wrong way up the motorway. "It's much worse than that, I'm having to swerve past hundreds of the nutters," he replied.
Unfortunately, Dogberry doesn't understand that the Civil Service supports Ministers who are accountable to Parliament. Select Committees will grill Ministers, Permanent Secretaries and Agency Chief Executives and MPs and Members of the Lords can ask written or oral Parliamentary Questions that have to be 100% accurate. The alleged weakness of the Civil Service in taking time to assemble information, consider several opinions and develop a consensus before submitting a paper to a Minister for a decision has been proved to work over many decades. The private sector requires profit. Even at company AGMs there is no equivalent of Question Time.
Paradoxically, the biggest obstacle to efficiency in the Civil Service is the continual reorganisation resulting from the implentation of the latest flavour of management bollox from the private sector which has to be more efficient because it makes a profit. Perhaps the private sector, especially the banks, could learn lessons from the Civil Service.


J said...

As someone who knows what it is like to be on the frontline of the civil service in a major government department I can sympathise with some of what Dogberry says.

However you rightly point out that there is much that is installed on the civil service by the whims of prevailing ministers and heads of departments.

The latest flavour of the month is LEAN. Every practice is now being minced by the LEAN process. Our office has seen its workload rise 130% since April without a single extra member of staff. Some might say this shows the spare capacity that existed before, but the stress levels, the errors being made, the poor service being delivered reflects the simple truth that staff have been inundated and have to adhere to systems that give them virtually no discretion.

The civil service is waaaaaaay too bureaucratic, complex and driven by pointless targets. This is not the fault of frontline staff he get virtually no consultation. I am the first person to say that, yes you can do the job with half the staff - but you have to cut half the crap the Government demands is done in the name of Data Protection, Freedom of Information, Equality, customer service, chasing and hitting pointless targets, etc, etc, etc.

William Gruff said...


It was Mrs Thatcher who started the cult of 'efficiency' and what we have now has grown from the seeds she and her ministers sowed for those who supported her.

As it happens I'm in the middle of an application for a position with a government department (it's a long winded process that the private sector could have completed in a day, except for the security clearance) which application means that at very nearly 53, and being without an income and just recently informed that I do not qualify for JSA (a reluctance to resort to the state results in gaps in one's contributions' record) I have finally accepted defeat and thrown myself on the public purse, even if in the expectation of making enough money thereby to establish myself as self-employed again, so to make enough money to build my own house on my own land, which I will do one day, even if I am in my seventies.

William Gruff said...

PS: I'm delighted to see that you spell bollocks as 'bollox' as, generally, do I.

William Gruff said...

PS: I'm delighted to see that you spell bollocks as 'bollox' as, generally, do I.

Gallimaufry said...

Latin bollox bollocis, m, a noun meaning paperwork. Good luck with the job application - working for the civil service is just as worthwhile as any other job. And that really is a worthwhile ambition.
Agreed. My experience of the civil service was of finding fixes to work around glitches, massaging returns and workflows to meet targets and being bored to death by Powerpoint presentations. Senior management should be forced to work on the frontline at least once or twice a year to see the reality of their ideas in action and how they affect staff and service users.

J said...

Gallimaufry, total agree.
This week was no exception.
Another pointless meeting about how we can cope with 360 signers a day with 3 signing staff - solution: 3 minute interviews. Excellent customer service!

The most interesting point that came out of the presentation was the disclosure that "unemployment is not expected to peak until March 2010." Amazing how they can pick a month, but also how this sits with Nice Mr Darling's belief that it'll all be over by the third quarter 2009.

I can't speak for Mrs T as I wasn't in the civil service. Though I will say there is absolutely nothing wrong with efficiency. Things could be massively improved through efficiency, but the main point for me is cutting the pointless red tape, targets (which have grown out of all proportion in the last decade), FOI act (again last decade) and the endless data scandals (again last decade due to the IT systems and "advances") that impact right down to frontline tasks.

However when I did join it was a total mess. The main issue today is what has happened in the last 3-4 years of Jobcentre Plus which quite honestly despite all the hot air spoken by ministers gives zero customer service. Whatever ministers say about help for the unemployed can be summed up like this:

Eighteen months ago every signing (fortnightly) intervention lasted 10 minutes. Today it will take 3 minutes.

Eighteen months ago every 13 week review (an adviser interview) took up to 30 minutes. Today it will take 10 minutes.

Eighteen months ago every 26 week review (again an adviser interview) took 60 minutes. Today it will take 40 minutes.

This is not efficiency, this is simply trying to manage the workload with the same or less staff.

I take issue with Gruff's belief that the process of applying could be done in a day. As someone who sees people every working day who apply for jobs I know that while our system is long compared to Tesco, Sainsburys, Poundland (which incidently all take 2-3 weeks to process applications), it is little different to applying to many other companies. That said, up until about 2 years ago the recruitment system was done locally and it was completed in the space of about 4 weeks. Now it is done centrally and can take 2 months.

My other major issue is IT. I don't know which area of the civil service you are applying to Gruff, but I hope it isn't DWP.

Gallimaufry said...

I was a Personal Advisor concentrating on 13 week and 6 month interviews before I took redundancy two and a half years ago. I used to do fortnightlies as well because we had a shortage of AOs. When I left, I felt that I didn't have enough time or flexibility to give the people I interviwed the help I knew they deserved. And since then things have worsened. I have every sympathy for both staff and signers (I bet they kick off more now)- but know from experience that taking sick leave (for depression, colds, etc) caused by stress is punished by the department's draconian attendance management procedures in order to meet another target.

CherryPie said...

Well said :-)

It is nice to be able to see the problem from both sides, most people don't have that advantage ;-)