Monday, July 05, 2010

Thoughts from the Train: please do not feed, taunt or abuse the Civil Servant...

It is a tough time to be a civil servant right now. A two-year pay freeze for many of us, pensions under threat, redundancy terms to be slashed, tens of thousands of jobs to be axed, who'd want to join an organisation under such circumstances? Making a case for civil servants is, I admit, a bit like trying to defend anthrax, but perhaps one should explain why some of my colleagues are so unhappy.

On pensions, there was a covenant of sorts. The benefit that the pension represented was factored into our rates of pay, a point made during every pay negotiation by management. Now, all of a sudden, the pension is a burden on the State. Yes, it probably is, but you can understand the level of disgruntlement this might generate. Besides, it wasn't civil servants who reduced the retirement age to sixty, it was politicians trying to reduce payroll numbers in the late-eighties.

As far as redundancy terms are concerned, there is no doubt that their generosity has acted as a disincentive to weeding out the lazy, the inefficient and the downright disruptive. Instead, enhanced retirement packages, natural wastage and the non-filling of vacancies have been the preferred tools used to cut numbers. For an increasingly twitchy Civil Service, who have already struck for three days this year in opposition to proposed changes to the redundancy terms, and are bracing themselves for job losses, such proposals look like provocation.

The hope, of course, is that the private sector will create enough new jobs to more than offset those lost in the public one. However, many Civil Service jobs have, over four decades, been transferred to areas of relatively high unemployment, away from London and the South East. If you're working in Scotland or the North East, for example, the promise of private sector opportunities might not be as convincing as it might be in, say, South London.

And because we're emerging tentatively from recession, levels of natural wastage are likely, in historic terms, to be relatively low. Enhanced pension incentives don't really stack up, whilst leaving vacancies unfilled is not going to do the trick. All of which makes redundancy a looming cloud on the horizon for civil servants.

So, when you read of threats of industrial unrest in the public sector, remember what the average civil servant is thinking. You probably know at least one. You're probably even related to one. And like animals in a zoo, civil servants have feelings too...


dougf said...

"So, when you read of threats of industrial unrest in the public sector, remember what the average civil servant is thinking. You probably know at least one. You're probably even related to one. And like animals in a zoo, civil servants have feelings too..."

Animals in a zoo ? Hardly.

I don't CARE what the average civil servant is thinking. His employer is going bankrupt. That small factoid changes just about everything. Nor do I care about the how and why the ridiculous arrangements covering 'public servants' came into being, or how 'disgruntled' the inmates of the zoo are now that the gravy train is about to be de-railed.

I ONLY care about the no money left situation. Public 'servants'(word used very loosely indeed), need to get with the program or have the program run right over them. Maybe as a start their Unions might propose,say, a 10% reduction in wages and benefits in order to preserve more jobs from the ax.
Maybe instead of complaining about Government initiatives such as the recent request for 'ideas' from Government employees for savings ideas, they might instead offer some ideas.

Bottom line ----- you might have been better to have taken the road less traveled here, and gone with defending anthrax instead. Results will be about the same, I fear.

Mark Valladares said...


You misread my comments, I'm afraid. Mine is not a plea for special treatment, merely an explanation of why civil servants feel ill-treated.

However, you demonstrate a level of callousness which indicates that, perhaps, you are ill-suited to anything other than theoretical politics. The average civil servant is not responsible for the size and scale of the public sector, any more than you are. Politicians build or contract it, depending on ideology, the stance of the Daily Mail, or circumstance. Want more tax revenue, hire more compliance officers, want to imprison more people, hire more prison officers, abolish Regional Development Agencies, cut business advisors. These people don't create their jobs, they apply for them because the Government creates them.

You can legitimately argue about the size and scope of government. I know I do. However, behind every redundancy is a human being, deserving of respect and dignity. And any Government has an obligation to consider the impact of its action on individuals and communities. Laying off civil servants will reduce expenditure in some areas, and increase it in others. There will also be other, less tangible, costs that will accrue. That isn't to say that redundancies are evil, or wrong, or misguided, simply that one asks that those making the decision think through the potential consequences of making them.

In return, the debate about the size and cost of our governance should be protected against special pleading. Many of the most enthusiastic budget-cutters will find an excuse to defend defence programmes designed to protect us from receding threats, as opposed to the emerging ones. One person's necessity is another's extravagance, after all...