Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Send in the Clowns

Poor old John ‘Chopper’ Reid. After luring Charles ‘Grizzly’ Clarke out of the Home Office with a case of vintage claret and a year’s worth of Burger King vouchers a scant few months ago, he now finds himself likely to be the victim of his own clean sweep after a computer blunder which puts Grizzly’s mere failure to get a new system up and running firmly in the shade. A word of advice Chopper – best to secure planning permission before establishing monuments to yourself on the moral high ground.

The scandal that will not go away involves a backlog of 27,500 records of people who have committed crimes abroad and then returned to Britain, many after completing prison sentences. These offenders’ details should have been entered on the Police National Computer, the database that is used to check whether or not applicants for jobs in schools, hospitals and care homes have a criminal record before letting them loose to oversee the welfare of vulnerable people. Over five hundred of the 27,500 parked records involve serious crimes like murder, rape and paedophilia. These files lay accumulating on a spare desk in the Home Office while Chopper was busy trying to secure permission for the state to collect personal information on the other 60 million of us who don’t commit crimes, either at home or when we’re on holiday.

Understandably, civil servants have absolutely no loyalty to the peripatetic ministers that flit between them like barn dance partners. The only minister who inspires any loyalty at all is Gordon ‘Scrooge McDuck’ Brown, and I get the distinct impression it’s fear rather than respect that fuels faithfulness in his case. It is said in the bowels of the Treasury or Money Bin as he prefers it to be known, that even Machiavelli is afraid of Scrooge McDuck.

As you know, I have done time in the statutory sector as we like to call it, although the stab-u-already sector might be more accurate as a moniker. There is a simple, if somewhat medieval, code in operation. You hew the bastard’s head off before he/she skewers yours on your own paper spike and flogs it in the canteen as ‘has been in aspic’. Did none of these people ever watch Yes Minister? I tell you, The Thick Of It should be regarded as a training film. Forget Grand Theft Auto, Playstation should develop Grandmaster Dickhead – the dumbest politician ever. Competition would be fierce.

I thought it might be useful to offer my own basic course in public service management based on my personal experience. I will call this course Duck Fool – A Strategic Approach. There are a few very basic principles that anyone working in government at any level should recognise. The most important of these is,

There are many things that it is no one’s job to do.

In government, this is the giant slayer. I hope you’re reading this Chopper.

Why, you might well ask - are people that bloody-minded that they would even put their own families in danger for the sake of bringing down some jumped up little Hitler? That’s an easy one – yes. Revenge is an awful thing, but terribly satisfying if you have little else to amuse you.

Back to the lesson. The things that are ‘no one’s job to do’ are never judged by their critical importance to national security but rather by the luck of where they land and how cross everyone is in the immediate vicinity. A task that is ‘no one’s job to do’ will, however, have certain characteristics that will make it more likely to achieve this status,

  • It is boring and/or repetitive
  • It spans more than one personal assessment period
  • It is unlikely to contribute to career development

Although the job description of a civil servant will always contain a clause that obliges them to undertake ‘other tasks or responsibilities as required’, this is never applied to tasks that are ‘no one’s job to do’.

You may ask how do tasks that are ‘no one’s job to do’ come about? Easily explained. A government that is constantly introducing new systems and legislation will always find it difficult to keep the human resource needs aligned with their flexible attitude to what is needed to keep the country humming along. It is not as easy to turn a dangerously polluting oil tanker around as it is to take a notion to piss in the wind, even though both activities involve the environment. It is a complex problem.

It is even more complicated for Government ministers, especially if they’re Speed-Ministering as is the current fashion. There is one tip I would like to offer, although it probably won’t be too helpful to Chopper now. My tip is this – never make the mistake of asking an open-ended question, as Chopper did upon assuming the helm of the Home Office. Chopper asked the question,

‘Is there anything I need to know about? Tell me everything now so we can get it all out of the way’.

Chopper has made a fundamental mistake here. Firstly, no individual senior manager will want to admit that there is a problem which could reflect badly on them and secondly, if there is a problem, surely it would be better if it blew up in a new minister’s face rather than one’s own. That’s only common sense.

At the risk of stating the obvious, here is the question Chopper should have asked his staff on taking over the Home Office,

‘Are there 27,500 criminal records sitting on a vacant desk somewhere in this building and who do I have to flatter, cajole and promote in order to get them input on the Police National Computer before the press gets wind of it?’

Here endeth the lesson…

Photo of Chopper the Clown from www. the-spine.co.uk


Clerk from Kent said...

Ha Ha Ha. And so true. You are wicked, you are.

That's so pants said...

Hi there clerk. Nice to have you back. I do try.