Sunday, 18 July 2010

Public Enemy No. 1 ..... million

How many civil servants are there in the UK?  According to this analysis, about half a million in "Whitehall", i.e. based around London and government departments. This does not include local government staff, so the total could be around a million, or maybe more. And are they all a bunch of wasters?

Will Hutton in the Observer today is concerned with "fairness" and what it means to different people and in different situations. In the article he cites the case of the headmaster who earned £200,000 in a year, and the stir this caused in the tabloids and on TV news. Is it "fair" for one head Teacher to earn so much, and so much more than any other teacher? 

TBH, I thought the story was got-up by the tabloids. Sure the guy earned a lot, but some of it was back pay and some of it was earnings from a consultancy job. The Headmaster in question seems to have been very effective in turning round a failing schools and the pupils, parents, teachers and governors had nothing but praise for his efforts and for his success.

£200,000 is a lot of money, and you might think that it is still too much, but IMHO it is not as egregious as the headline writers made out...

Indeed, from recent stories in the press about this or that civil servant "earning more than the Prime Minister", it seems to me that all public servants are being painted by government agencies as over-paid, a "waste of money" and time serving shirkers all, the better to cut their jobs and livelihood: after all, who has sympathy for a waste of public money? If "public servant" can become a synonym for "waste of space", then the public will accept job losses in the public sector with no protest and maybe even a few cheers.

Elsewhere in the Observer we have the second week of "the Secret Diary of  Civil Servant", which outlines the confusion of government ministries in their search for "savings".

He/she touches on the same theme: the "vilification" of public servants as a prelude to the dismantling of public service itself.

The effect on public sector morale must be quite damaging: how can you do your job properly when your political masters have such a low opinion of your peformance, and are broadcasting their contempt far and wide? And if morale is low, what can we expect in performance terms from our public servants? Not a lot, would be the conventional wisdom.

The question then becomes: how can the Tory government declare war on a million of its own employees and still expect to govern effectively? And what happens to our public services if public servants are the government's public enemy No. 1?

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