In the run up to the Big Day I thought I’d present my top five Christmas wishes. In reverse order here’s number 5.
Wish #5: I wish public servants to get the recognition they deserve for helping to keep society glued together.
If the big freeze has shown anything is that there are clear limits to what volunteerism or the Big Society can achieve. It’s great that 4×4 drivers have offered lifts to key hospital staff or ferried patients in and out. Marvellous too that neighbours have been checked, paths cleared and shopping done. That’s all excellent.
But let’s spare a thought for lower-profile jobs that also keep the show on the road. The home helps, the teaching assistants, the refuse collectors, the posties, the engineers in the energy industry, the road side assistance folks and … Well the list could be endless and you’ll see I have include public service roles that are not paid for by taxpayers.
However much some people like to pretend that well-run and comprehensive public services are something that they can opt out of paying for, the weather has taught us all a valuable lesson. You can be driving the best Range Rover money can buy, but if you’re stuck between jack-knifed lorries on an untreated road you might as well be in a Robin Reliant.
You can have reserved the most marvellous First Class seats on the East Coast train but if the power lines come down you’re still on the pavement at Peterborough with everyone else.
A gloomy friend of mine always likes to remind me that we are only ‘three square meals from anarchy’. I think it’s both simpler and more complicated than that.
Three days without public services would equally do the trick.
Andrew Rawnsley wrote interestingly in The Observer yesterday about the growing commitment of leading thinkers in the government to the notion of ‘creative chaos’ in public services. It seems to me this is a bit like advocating amputation for an in-growing toe-nail. It solves the problem while simultaneously creating a host of other problems you didn’t have to start with.
One thing that the past few days has demonstrated amply is that the UK public do not like chaos – creative or otherwise – in their lives. Unlike half-weaned policy wonks whose life experience consists of talking with other half-weaned policy wonks most people like to know that the train they’re on will arrive, the road will stay open or the hospital they arrive at provides good services.
Of course all that depends on a host of people whose quiet dedication to what they do gets drowned out in the nonsense spouted in certain parts of the media about the public sectors’ legendary inefficiency.
It’s those workers in their unshowy jobs that really keep society on the road – literally – so it’s well beyond time that each of them got the recognition from all of us they deserve.
Merry Christmas to every one of them.