In which I say cheerio …

I’ve been puzzling out the many effects of getting a job. On our family life and, of course, on the work I’ve been trying to do through this blog.

When I started I thought there was an untold story about the impact of deficit reduction on those of us caught in its frontline. I also thought that it might be helpful to share my experiences and to give readers a space in which to do the same. The blog has grown a little bit through time to signpost useful resources and I know that some HR specialists check in from time to time to hear about readers’ experiences of redundancy and recruitment.

I don’t feel comfortable continuing to write about redundancy now I am working again. But I also want to maintain a space for the signposting and sharing of resources that folks have said they have found useful.

So, I plan to maintain the site as a resource for people trying to deal with the impact of redundancy. I will not write a personal blog here but I may – if moved – continue to share what I bump into that’s relevant to the losing and the getting of employment.

I am also hoping to encourage some guest spots from folks I have bumped into whose opinions and thoughts have inspired me along the way.

The whole RPS clan feel very blessed to know that there has been such a warm and supportive following for us in our travails. It’s been great to know you’ve been there. And it would feel wrong somehow to pack up now just because I have found a job.

So, it’s not ‘goodbye’ and it’s not quite ‘business as usual’ either. But rather ‘cheerio’ for now …

Best wishes,

RPS and family

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In which I work on the small things …

Being let loose and left to your own devices by a former employer is an odd experience. Mrs RPS believes that I need some structure in this hiatus. So, in order to prevent me brooding, she has developed a little list of all the things I promised to do but failed to get done. It’s payback after years of being ‘too busy’.

Today is only day 2 of my assault on the task list yet I feel I am making good progress. Pictures are being re-hung, corners cleared out and I have even stuck my head in to the garage. (Obviously I didn’t do anything other than stick my head in – I feel the need to work up to that task.)

We have decided to do a bit of a de-cluttering exercise. Like most middle-aged folks we have acquired all sorts of stuff in our voyage through life accreted like barnacles and weed to our ship. Thinking about selling up after the news of my redundancy concentrated our minds. All this stuff!

Tonight we have ruthlessly pruned our wardrobes. The charity clothes bin at the edge of the village will have a bumper day tomorrow. But it’s all strangely liberating. Giving stuff up is, I suppose, the ultimate way of confirming that you own your possessions, not the other way round. Giving up my hopelessly too small Cuillins FM – the sunday morning chat show is terrific – tee-shirt is not such a big deal though.

A shock as big as redundancy prompts you to do some rather deeper and harder thinking about what is important. I was lucky to find a series of roles in a single organisation that fitted me so well for so long. I doubt whether the rest of my working life will be like that. I am certain that my children’s won’t be.

A financial adviser asked me recently when I thought I would be retiring. He was nonplussed by the chuckling brought on by the question. We had already given this some thought and concluded that we would be lucky indeed to retire this side of 70. I suspect we’re not unusual. A combination of university fees, house deposits and other currently unforeseeable needs of our children would be daunting enough. But then, of course, there’s our own retirement to save up for and fund.

So it makes sense to start planning now for a future that requires fewer resources to run it. One of my previous responsibilities was the ‘greening’ of our business. Or, as some organisations would claim, ‘tree-hugging nonsense’. It was actually about being more efficient (and less costly) and more sustainable. What’s not to like?

One of the early pieces of information I happened upon that I used to focus minds was something that still shocks me. It was an analysis of the footprint of our quality of life here in the UK. The WWF Report (PDF) back in 2007 found that even our poorest cities needed more than one planet to support their quality of life. Given we only have the one planet – when last I looked – this seemed to me to be IMPORTANT.

So tonight I like to think we at RPS Towers were beginning to shrink our footprint … perhaps redundancy does have some upsides.

Posted in Redundancy | Tagged | 1 Comment

In which I channel CJ and a Roman …

Few of life’s problems cannot be resolved by dipping into a West Wing Box set. From accidentally sleeping with a call girl to invading other sovereign jurisdictions the answers are all there.

My favourite character is CJ played by the incomparable Allison Janney. She is everything a slightly frayed public servant could wish for as a role model. Smart. Funny. Compassionate. Passionate. Sensitive. And, of course, at the end of the final series leaving The White House for somewhere new.

I was reminded a lot today of the changes facing the characters as a new regime arrives at The White House. People who have been used to working flat-out suddenly find themselves without a job. And CJ quietly slipping out of The White House is asked if she works there and is able, for the first time in eight years to say, ‘No’. (No, no one was outside to ask me if I worked in the office block I just left.)

There was an air of that today as we gathered to deposit our masters’ goods and chattels.

Some colleagues looked as if a huge weight had been lifted from their shoulders simply by laying down their laptop bags. But for most of us it was a case of quiet mingling, the occasional joke and a gentle ebbing away of the last hours and minutes of our current service.

Some colleagues planned to have a last drink at lunchtime before heading off in our different directions. I thought that I might go depending on how I felt. My mind was made up by being taken aside by a representative from a whole gang of folks with whom I had worked. They had had a collection and wanted to give me a card. Because of the circumstances they had decided to send one person because they thought that would be best.

It was difficult. I had not bargained on this having been worried about any potential senior management glad-handing. It’s strange how kindness can be so unsettling. It would have been easier to have had a pack of baying small-staters hooting and pointing with derision. But kindness … ? Altogether a much more powerful and daunting sensation.

I couldn’t open the card on the spot. Instead I made small talk as long as I could before making a bolt for it.

It all taught me that my feelings about my employer, my redundancy and the public realm in general are all pretty tangled up. But I have a brief period of grace to sort my head out and prepare for a whole new world. And, of course, I know that I am so much luckier than many former colleagues and other public servants out there.

On my way home I distracted myself by stopping off to visit a small local museum I have been meaning to visit for ages. I find the past a restful place to contemplate the present. I was struck by a Roman artefact, a small altar erected by some unknown person 2000 years ago, ‘that the gods should be kind …’ Well I think I had recovered enough to capture a little of that unknown Roman’s instinct to propitiate the Fates.

In ending there is beginning and here I am poised on the edge of whatever happens next. So I’m going to try looking forward now more often than I look back. Here goes …

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In which I’m running out of time …

In any job there’s always a file some where with the ‘I’ll get back to that …’ set of tasks. The ones that never quite reach being urgent or important but bob around just about in the corner of your eye. A constant reproof to your inability to deal with everything in your in-tray.

Despite being on my last holiday I have, when Mrs RPS has not been looking, been delving through old files ‘just in case’. Just in case of what I am not entirely sure but old habits die hard I suppose. I don’t want to find myself being the absent nail, the want of which caused all sorts of bother.

So I also tackled my ‘I’ll get back to that …’ cardboard folder. As with most long-avoided tasks it was easier than dreaded anticipation had made it. Almost all the assorted bits of paper were notes reminding me to look something up, find something out or get hold of a book or article to read. I’m an inveterate note-taker and usually have two or three notebooks tucked away on my person at any one time. So a quick sort of what still remained interesting and relevant was all that was called for.


A couple of items cause me to pause for deeper thought. They were notes of ideas for development opportunities for some of my team. A couple were notes of things I had seen in local services that would be worth following up.

These latter points have been easier to deal with and have been forwarded on to where they may still be of interest.

But what to do with my feedback notes? After careful thought I have destroyed them. In one case I know the individual is off to completely change their life. In the other it seems gratuitous now to be offering ideas for personal development as we both step off into new lives. Like curing a headache but forgetting to put a tourniquet around a bleeding stump.

I’m also deleting all my files from the laptop. The virtual bonfire must be glowing red-hot with all the fuel I’m putting on. I make a mental note to think about my hoarding habits in future. Thank goodness freedom of information had compelled us all to be more systematic about archiving otherwise this bonfire would be getting to ‘visible from space’ proportions.

But if I had a smokescreen at least I might be able to slip in and out of the office for the last time without being observed. I have carefully enveloped up and labelled all my security fobs, access cards and keys. The lap top is packed into its bag – a suitable message penned for my ‘out of office’ response – and the mobile switched off for the last time.

The mechanics of leaving have lost their terror through sheer familiarity over recent months as colleagues all around have gone. No, what I dread is saying goodbyes. Or, the presentation. Not that I dislike either but I don’t know how I am likely to react. Will my upper lip remain stiff? I doubt it.

But would that be so bad? Again, I just don’t know. Still however much I fret about it tomorrow still has to be got through. Somehow. And after tomorrow comes whatever is next. The gate has to be negotiated.

It’s odd what memories come floating back as your mind races. My primary school head, a doughty Scot, insisted we memorised poems for high days and speech days. I’ve been plagued by one ragged memory of a poem about goodbyes over the last few days. In an inspirational flash caused by watching Disney’s The Jungle Book the other day – that’s a whole different post – it came back to me: Kipling.

It’s called The Roman Centurion’s Song and you can find it here.

This is the verse that’s been nagging at me –

Here where men say my name was made, here where my work was done;
Here where my dearest dead are laid – my wife – my wife and son;
Here where time, custom, grief and toil, age, memory, service, love,
Have rooted me in British soil. Ah, how can I remove?

I think I now, forty years on, have at last a small sense of what he was talking about. Time, custom, grief and toil, age, memory, service and love have rooted me but it’s time to leave. And, unlike the unlucky Centurion I am ready to depart.

I’ll get my coat (or should that be my sagum?) …

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In which my P45 arrives …

It had to come. The P45 that is. I hadn’t actually thought about it but opening the letter and finding it in my hot little hand shouldn’t really have been a surprise. It was still a strange sensation though to look down and see the employment equivalent of the coroner’s release certificate for burial.

‘This extinct career is safe to bury, cremate or dispose of in any permitted manner … ‘

At Lindisfarne you used to be able to see a causeway path marked by freshly cut branches in the sand. Each marks the progress towards a hazy destination through a seascape that rapidly changes over a short span of time.

Communication has been like that during the irresistible march towards R-day. Official communications stick out in my memory. The ‘at risk letter’, the redundancy notice, the often contradictory dispatches from corporate colleagues wading the same route dealing with admin and, of course, the stark finality of the P45.

Around those waymarkers have swirled often weird and wonderful currents driven by events great and small. Buffeting you as you head towards the next reference point.

There was the coalition programme, the NHS White Paper, the June Budget, the Bonfire of the Quangos and the comprehensive spending review. All driven by the sound and fury of regular condemnation of public servants in the popular media.

But there have been other currents too. Stronger perhaps because they come from somewhere deeper than the imagination of the Whitehall Spinners and their chums in the media.

The good wishes and support of local leaders with whom I’ve worked – including many from the parties of government. Seeing reports of some of the good things that I and my team helped make happen although the reports are often about their scaling back or closure.

The goodwill and respect of your colleagues some expressed and some simply experienced through the handshake or nod of the head as you pass.

Then, of course, there’s been the wider support from readers of the blog and followers on twitter. Generous, honest and warm. How dearly I would love to have such words used about me. But they are exactly right for each of you.

All of these deeper currents have buoyed the RPS family up as we have headed from marker to maker across the treacherous sands and tides of the last few months.

So much so that each waymarker now assumes its proper place as just a point along a route rather than a destination in itself. Getting the P45 is as necessary to the journey as stepping through the gate and climbing down onto the shore.

Of course I ask myself how much my mood is altered by having work ahead. And the answer has to be – I can’t be sure. Obviously I feel a little more secure but I will never take anything for granted ever again when it comes to work.

I do think that greater security has allowed me to feel a little more of the anger and hurt I had buried deep. In planning for and chasing various options for a different life anger and hurt did not feel useful to me.

I’m not convinced they are that useful now. But they are there nevertheless. Suddenly lighting up an otherwise unremarkable scene. The opening of a letter perhaps.

But, as emotions, they should also assume their proper shape and size alongside pride, thankfulness and hope.

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In which I wonder if anyone will take our place …

The following post first appeared in Patrick Butler’s cuts blog in The Guardian on line on 11 February. It is reproduced here by kind permission of The Guardian.

Being made redundant implies what you do is no longer needed. For many public servants its far more complicated. It’s not that there isn’t a need for what they do but rather there’s no money to pay for it.; You might be forgiven for wondering whether you are ‘properly’ redundant at all?
Worrying about semantics as you clutch your redundancy notice is not likely to be at the top of your ‘to do’ list though. Nor is trying to work out who is to blame. We are caught between the tectonic plates of national and local politics. The landscape we knew is changing rapidly before our eyes as institutions sway and collapse under forces beyond their control. We’re angry. Disorientated. And worried for ourselves, our families and the people we serve.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of rapid deficit reduction the political posturing and point scoring off the back of our woes is hard to bear. As if we care who has the best of those arguments. It’s like watching two street hoods arguing over whether it was one’s cosh or the other’s baseball bat that did for the hapless innocent bleeding at their feet. Whoever is right we will still be redundant.
As we worry about how to make ends there’s been the often surreal experience of hearing that – whatever branch of public service you’ve been involved with – the hole you leave can be filled with a bit of Dunkirk Spirit, gumption and voluntary pulling together.
That seems an unlikely proposition as both public and community organisations shed people. Even a fresh willing army of volunteers needs training, help and leadership. Those of us now clearing our desks wonder just how that might happen.
Recent rows about the Big Society and the cuts have prompted much grim humour on the frontline of deficit reduction. We’ve known for ages what the impact of wholesale staff and funding cuts would be but no one has been listening. The cutting now has a terrible momentum for public servants and local groups and charities. It all feels inexorable. The plates shifting beneath your feet.
A community worker told me recently about the withdrawal of funding for her team of women who work with vulnerable military families. All of them now had redundancy notices. Between them over a hundred years of experience in their community and understanding of how its social ecosystem works. All now going, going, gone.
‘How will we ever get that back?’ she asked. Her ladies have their own families to support so they would not be coming back to volunteer. The political Punch and Judy show over the Big Society and cuts has stopped being funny out here. We are living with the real, not the theoretical, consequences of it all. However redundant we may be the people who have relied on what we do still need help. But will enough of us have the time or energy as citizens to come back and plug the gaps we leave?

Posted in Big Society, Guardian Society, Public sector, Public service, Redundancy | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

In which there is a week to go and something odd happens …

So the last week has arrived. Seven days to R-day. And the last feverish tidying up and sorting out of accumulated stuff is pretty much done. It’s half term and I’m on leave. Which is just as well because something odd has happened.

I’ve been offered and accepted a job. Yes, we have to pause to let that sink in too.

It’s a strange and rather unreal sensation after so many ‘no thank yous’ to discover that you might be useful somewhere after all.

Logistically it’s going to mean long absences from home. But after a massive pros and cons exercise we agreed that we should take the offer. So after months of drifting away from the employment spacecraft on my spacewalk around the debris field of redundancy I find myself being tugged back towards a place of safety.

Of course I’m excited and a bit daunted by what’s to come. It’s been twenty years since I started a new job. Will the other public servants speak to me? Will my dinner money be safe? But these are a different set of worries to the ones that prompted me to start blogging.

I cannot, in all honesty, keep writing about redundancy and all it brings at third hand. So I am working out what to do with the RPS website. And we will be reflecting on what we’ve learned along the way as a family before our final sign off.

Knowing that there’s been a group of folks out there reading the blog, finding useful bits in it and wishing us well has been a powerful source of strength to all here at RPS towers.

Thank you all.

Clan RPS

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In which I get things into perspective …

Fellow fans of Douglas Adams will be familiar with the fiendishly cruel Total Perspective Vortex. A device developed by a man exasperated by his spouse’s constant nagging to get a sense of proportion. By clever use of fairy cake he was able to create a device that revealed to its victim their precise relationship as a single being to the whole infinity of creation. Naturally such a revelation is enough to fry the victim’s brain.

As I’ve been mentally gearing up for a different life I’ve been trying to get my feelings about my career into perspective too. It would be easy to let the emotions churning around inside me at the minute overshadow my twenty odd years of service. The hideous events that have shaped my family’s life over the last ten months should not be the epitaph on that service.

It’s not a question of not going gentle into that good night. Although there is plenty to rage at with yet another media offensive on council ‘non jobs’ today. For me it’s a question of not letting my service get defined by the manner of its end.

Out in the real world far away from the narrow calculations of political advantage that drive the drivel that’s written about public service I know we’ve done good. Lives have been better because of our work. I know that to be true.

Certainty is rare in the topsy-turveydom of modern public life where up is down and down is up, localism is guided and world needs to convulsed every five years. But I am certain in my heart that however abused my calling may now be I (and my colleagues) am leaving some footnotes in the history of our times that will recall the good we did.

There have been other reasons to look past the last ten months. Over the last few days I have had several messages from colleagues who I will be leaving behind. These have helped in getting a proper perspective on the part of my life now closing.

I have been privileged to work with people of outstanding character and talent. Individuals for whom public service is way of life not a slogan of first resort for scoundrels. To read their words of appreciation and know that you have the respect of your peers is worth more than any testimonial above the signature of whoever among the top brass happened to be available to sign it.

Of course in ending there is always beginning. The RPS family has a series of big decisions to take about our future. We are very lucky. We have some certainty. We have a little money. And, most importantly, we have each other. We trust that together we will prove greater than the sum of all our fears about the future.

You’ll have to excuse me right now though. I have some fairy cake to tidy up.

Posted in bad news, Public sector, Public service, Redundancy | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

In which we say thank you yet again …

Sometime last night the blog past 50,000 hits.

I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you to everyone who has visited. The comments have been moving, motivational and hilarious. You’ve all been a great help to the RPS family during these strange and terrible months.

We just hope that, whatever your circumstances, you’ve found something useful here too.

Best wishes to you all,

RPS and family

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In which I get revisionist (it’s the cowboy in me) …

I am very fond of the western movie. So much so that, as Mrs RPS will tell you, I’ll watch any old rubbish involving a bloke on a pony waving a gun in the air. Of course I like to dress up my interest in fanciful intellectual garb.

My favourite is to claim that the western tells us something about what was going on in society when it was made. I can just about make it work.

(Bear with me this post will be back on point soon.)

The early westerns reproduced the menus from the travelling wild west shows. Shoot outs. Indians attacking stage coaches. Cavalry charges. Trick shooting. All staples from the penny dreadfuls that mythologized the West as it was happening for the civilised folks back East.

The 1950s saw America’s preoccupations with the ‘red threat’ and the psychological damage caused by war, obsession and greed. The 1960s saw westerns portraying violence graphically and addressing race. The only good indian ceased to be a dead one. The cavalry behaved more like an imperial police force.

The 1970s and 1980s saw the genre reinvented again. Technicolor hues gave way to greys and browns. And, of course, the 1980s opened with Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate. A film so poisonously received that it would have killed off almost any genre that it represented. (This is not the place to defend that film but I believe it is a great piece of work.)

The last 30 years have seen the advent of the ‘rivisionist’ western in all its flowering majesty best represented by Unforgiven Clint Eastwood’s western masterpiece or perhaps by TV’s Deadwood. And now, of course, we have True Grit.

I don’t hold much truck with the notion of ‘revisionist’ westerns. All western movies right from the start have been revisionist in that they created an alternative version of history that suited the needs and purposes of the times in which they were made.

Given my interests in movies mirroring society and public service you will be unsurprised to learn that I am eagerly anticipating Andrew Davies’ adaptation of Winfred Holtby’s South Riding. If you don’t know the book give it a try. It’s the only faithful celebration of the role of local government in the life of a realistic community that I’ve come across.

I read it when I was much younger and in the throws of a deep crush on Vera Brittain/Cheryl Campbell. Holtby, a friend of Brittain’s, wrote about a fictional world of local politics based on her mother’s work as a councillor in East Yorkshire.

With Davies doing the screenwriting we could be in the unusual situation of seeing local government becoming sexy. Town clerks emerging from ponds their ardour temporarily quenched before they calculate the product of the two penny rate.

All of which got me wondering about what a revisionist movie about the world of public service would look like. Perhaps I could develop a pitch for the following:

  • A Streetscene named desire – passions are roused during the planting of the flower beds on the roundabout by B&Q.
  • For whom the ballot tolls – passions are roused in a recount by electoral services.
  • True Grit 2 – passions are roused during a heavy snowfall.
  • Pontoon – passions are roused during an afternoon of card games in the extra care housing community.
  • The Bourne indemnity – passions are raised by a fresh batch of insurance claims for pot hole damage.
  • The good, the bad and the ugly 2 – passions are roused in a ministerial visit.

In all seriousness it is curious that, given all human life is there, that councils do not have a richer seam of art to show for it all. But there again there is a rich lode of revisionism about public services that we are all getting to enjoy as the cuts roll forward.

It doesn’t feel like a technicolor world right now though …

Posted in 2011, bureaucrats, CSR2010, local government, political debate, Public sector, war on the deficit | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments