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February 24, 2006

Government slave - a rant (part I, probably).

Regular readers will be aware that I work for myself. This is my fourth year at it. Working for yourself has untold benefits; the only problem is you don't get benefits.

Uh, I could have put that better, couldn't I?

What I mean is, I now have all the little pleasures of being my own boss - such as working in the morning in my jarmies, which I do sometimes on a Saturday - but you don't get what society chooses to call 'benefits' such as sick pay, holiday pay, non-contributary pension and whathaveyou. 'Benefits' is right. Bear with me, I'll look it up ... a ... b ...b ... beluga, belvedere, bemoan ... bench ... Benedictine, benediction ... here we are, benefit n. 1. advantage, favour, profit, good 2. money paid by a government etc. to unemployed etc.

Damn right. Advantage, favour, money paid. That can be the only reason for a sane person to work for the government, the only reason.

Let's be clear on this. As a society we need a government, I think, definitely. As an entity it works, sort of. Stuff does get done, sort of. It's just when you get down to the micro-scale that it all goes tits. I went through various government places, and ended up working for the Environment Agency, a quango. There's another acronym for them now instead of quango but I can't remember it. It was an amalgamation of the National Rivers Authority, lots of people from each local government area, and a chunk from central government's Department of the Environment, as was.

On day one, everyone carried on doing their day job. For a while, people took the opportunity to switch about jobs a bit to do something more interesting. I was one of these, and ended up as a sort of pollution inspector (we had so many changes of job title that I won't bore you with them). It was a good job - one day I would be out chasing oil slicks down rivers, warning people who took water out downstream to stop, sticking absorbent booms and pads out; trying to find where it came from. The next I would be discussing landfill liner engineering with big waste companies. The next I would be doing covert video surveillance of flytipping skip companies, and taking them to court.

Varied, interesting, absorbing, satisfying.

And all the time, quietly, behind the scenes, others were working: the insidious little cost / benefit wonks, the health and safety nazis, the restructuring / efficiency weasels. And they whispered in the ears of the managers, largely decent men and women, promoted from the ranks. The weasels brought in management consultants, who talked about 'the regulation chimney' (I never understood what that was about, and once got a bollocking for playing 'buzzword bingo' too loudly with that phrase) and 'incentivising our stakeholders'.And the managers listened, and heard, and didn't really understand, but did it anyway.

The World's Most Complicated Time Recording system arrived, upon which we were required to account for every six minutes of our time - every tenth of an hour. And no, it didn't have codes for 'chatting at the coffee machine' or 'going for a shit'. Then, just as we were starting to get our heads round it, it was changed. And then again. And then it was computerised. Everyone just recorded all their time against the most-vaguely-described category (something to do with 'site regulation') because otherwise we would have spent all of our time recording our time and none of our time doing the stuff we were paid for. Missives came back from management saying we were spending too much time doing site regulation. All sorts of measures were introduced to address this. We laughed incredulously that someone was trying to draw serious conclusions from the data in the time recording system.

More and more stuff came through - databases of this, computer systems of that. You should have seen the incident response database: every time a little old lady rang to say there was a black bag in a layby or a film of oil on a pond, we'd have to fill in about nine full pages of database fields. NIRS, it was called. Fuck, I hated it. We spent more time recording what we'd done than going out to look at the damn thing.

I was becoming disillusioned. I had started out helping people, using my judgement, my initiative. I ended up as a pre-programmed android, with a pre-judged response to everything. Fly tipping > 6 bags + non-green waste + includes paint tins and / asbestos sheet + known suspect = prepare prosecution file. Other circumstances irrelevant. On the road verge while you're demolishing your shed? You were only putting it in there for a couple of days until you've got room for the skip you've ordered? Not my problem, mate, it's off your own land because the verge belongs to the highways authority. You were going to throw it out so it's waste. Ergo, it's waste on land. Fly-tipping, to you. Rules is rules. No you can't take it back into your garden, it's too late for that. You're not obliged to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something you later rely on in court. Do you understand the caution?

For fuck's sake.

I had a problem with managers at this point. We had a manager who had come from the ivory towers of head office, and was keen as mustard on all this bollocks. He got given a pair of protective wellies and a hi-vis coat on his first day, and when he handed them back when he went back to his ivory tower to do policy they were still as clean as the day he was given them. 'Seagull manager', it's called: flies in, squawks loudly, shits on everything, flies off. Perfect. In that time he'd managed to give me a written warning. Largely for, uh, helping people (like the bloke knocking down his shed) without sticking to the procedure, and having four months' backlog of timesheets (my correct justification that they weren't worth the paper they were printed on is, of course, irrelevant. He made me do them anyway, both of us knowing full well that I was just making them up. But they got fed into the system and no doubt conclusions were drawn about them. Surely better to not feed made up information into the system? Don't argue with me, you've already got one written warning).

Suffice to say, I started looking around for something else to do. I managed to find a post-graduate diploma that was taught on Saturdays. I started my business at weekends and evenings. According to the Rules at work, I could request to go to part-time at any point. So I did, when my final coursework projects were looming. I had got enough private work while I was still studying to cover the loss of pay, anyway.

Delay followed delay. I finally got my part time arrangement about three months after I had completed my diploma. (I got a Distinction anyway, thanks for asking. I wasn't going to mention it).

Then, citing Setting An Example To The Country as a wholly spurious reason, the Paperless Office arrived. No longer are you allowed to keep paper files; all the current paper files disappeared for months to some warehouse where teams of temps with no (a) reason to do the job properly, and (b) brain in their heads scanned them into the database. Randomly, apparently. I never saw some of the most important stuff - you know the stuff: evidence that people's children were not actually given birth defects by a leaking landfill with illegal waste in it - ever again anyway. Difficult to go to the anti-landfill action group meeting after that, really. A bit embarrassing. Yes, I know how ill your daughter is. Yes, I'm sure I will see you in court, madam.

Letters addressed to you will be opened by admin staff, and scanned. You are then supposed to find them for yourself (remember you've got a response target time), resave them to the appropriate place, and then act on them. Assuming the admin staff put them in the right place so you even know you've got them, otherwise you'll suddenly come across a series of letters from someone getting crosser and crosser about a genuine problem until they are practically apopleptic because no-one is replying. They've tried to phone but it's just an 0800 number and they can't get through to the right person. Filed in the wrong place? Really? Oh, sorry about that.

I could go on. But for the purposes of this rant, suffice to say I just quit. On the spot. And no, I haven't looked back.


  • crikey

    I'm shaking slightly. . . it's all coming back to me

    I was made redundant from a rather excellent job in a quite relaxed blue chip co, whilst on maternity leave with Ch No 1; went back to a different job after Ch No 2 (three years later), funnily enough for an android firm - had to fill in all those 6 mins of your hour forms, there wasn't a box for "inspirational thinking time" (I was a writer), or "dithering about what to do next" (had far too much work to fit into the day), or "dealing with the crap and shit and general bollocks of office politics" (which I couldn't stand, having had three years out of corporate life)

    actually, it was the general bollocks that did me in, in the end, rather than the form filling;

    and the fact I couldn't justify the nanny getting more quality time with my kids than I, and more of my post-tax/NId wage packet than I (once I'd paid her tax/NI); didn't make the "intellectual stimulation" I was getting from the bollocks and the filling in of forms seem worth it really

    maybe I should have tried a child-minder and gone to work as a supermarket check out person?

    obviously the story is longer and more complicated than this, but I won't bore you with it

    just glad that working from home is working for you!

    By Blogger don't chase it, at 12:02 pm  

  • Oh so am I, so am I. Hope for you too.

    By Blogger crisiswhatcrisis, at 5:34 pm  

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