Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Politicians for Hire

When I was a very lowly civil servant I was in a meeting one day when our new department head started talking about our 'customers' and how we had a duty to provide them with the most efficient and cost effective service possible. He then fired off a question out to the audience 'just who do you think our customers are?' quick as a flash came the reply, 'the public'. The poor man looked horror struck - 'no' he said 'the Department's Ministers' are our customers. We work for them.'

Well call me naive but I thought that civil servants 'worked ' for the Crown and as such, in working in a contact centre, our 'customers' were ipso facto, her majesties subjects i.e. members of the public rather than Members of Parliament.

This strange memory came back to me last night when I was watching the Channel 4 Dispatches programme, Politicians for Hire, where four Labour Cabinet Ministers were caught on camera boasting that they had used their influence to change policy in favour of business.

Now let me say that I never worked for any of the Ministers filmed, but some civil servants did. In fact a whole raft of people would have been employed in their offices, from the Permanent Secretary at the top of the tree right down to the poor sods who answer the phones from irate members of the public at the bottom.

How proud they all must be today to know that all the years they have put in 'serving' their Minister, (for far less money than they would have reasonably been expected to earn in the private sector!) weren't wasted. Or the hours spent on developing new policy and strategies only to have them rejected because the Ministers and their advisers didn't want to implement them in an election year, would come in handy when their Ex-Minster was writing his cv as a Lobbyist.

How very gratifying it must be knowing that some of the Ministers they worked for have used the knowledge gained in those Departments to such good effect.

I'm sure that the Support Grade Band 2 worker, trying to raise a family on £13,882 a year, is absolutely cock a hoop today to know that Stephen Byres referred to himself as 'a sort of taxi for hire' on up to £5000 a day.

It seems incredible to me that these same Politicians who were claiming every penny they were 'entitled' to, are the same ones who are calling for swinging cuts in bureaucracy. Not that they will calling for a saving of the high salaried Special Advisers or the Whitehall Mandarins just the lower grade civil servants and public sector workers who presumably they consider dispensable. The biggest machine in the world will not work if its smallest cog is missing and more than one government department wont be 'fit for purpose' if the Politicians get their way by laying off thousands of its work force, or god forbid, outsourcing the work to a company whose only motivation is profit, not customer service.

They will argue any job losses are through natural wastage, well it doesn't matter how they sugar the pill, once those jobs are gone they will never come back. Those departments that brought employment (all be it low paid) to areas of high unemployment around the country, will eventually close and as a result the job prospects for young people there will suffer for years to come.

The one office that wont suffer is the Minsters' own. They will make sure that they have the right people with the best qualifications advising them on policy, so maybe our senior civil servant was right all along, and the civil servants' first customer is their Minister? And if that's true maybe they would like to consider some kind of profit sharing scheme for their staff - out of the 'taxi for hire' money they expect to earn as a Lobbyist!

If you missed last night's Dispatches, shame on you, but you can catch it for the next 29 days on 4oD at http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/4od

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