Bureaucrats get a bad press. But it seems to me that any human system doing complicated – or even simple – things needs a paper trail. Of course that’s particularly true when the system is spending public money. The paper trail is, in part, how each public servant shows they have used that public money well.
But then I’m a bureaucrat so I would say that wouldn’t I?
Bringing a job to an end in the public sector takes a lot of admin. At the moment of transformation all those longstanding pieces of employment give and take suddenly crystallize. Those niggling little pieces of loose end around leave entitlement, IT kit, training records, professional subscriptions, manuals, paper and electronic records suddenly begin to wrap themselves around your life. That’s before you even get close to really important stuff like pensions.
The business of leave entitlement has been really interesting to unravel. For most of us full timers it’s not been a problem. You apply a percentage to your full year’s entitlement based on how much of this current leave year you will have worked. It gets trickier for colleagues who work flexible working patterns or who have carried forward leave that they have been unable to take or were buying or selling leave or building up a pot of leave to take a longer break.
Trying to work out leave entitlements in these circumstances takes on the aspect differential calculus without the laughs. If someone’s employment had just kept chugging along none of this would matter but, of course, the arrival of R-Day compels everyone to work out where to put the full-stop. It also matters because public service employers don’t want to pay out any more than they have to as they usher you out. It matters not that it’s January and you’ve got no money after Christmas – off on leave you must jolly well go.
This morning I’m on leave – naturally – but I have just worked through my admin task list. Habit is a terrible mistress but here I am nevertheless processing leave requests. I think we all must be working off the same checklist as I was going to be planning my leave over the next nine weeks too this morning.
After I’ve sorted that I am going to spend a couple of hours clearing out the ‘my documents’ folder on my work laptop. This includes, of course, my email archives. Much modern bureaucracy is electronic which makes it simultaneously difficult to get rid of – ask the US government – and fragile. One ill-judged click of a mouse on non-backed up data and it’s gone forever. Possibly.
I guess the freedom of information folks in the Roman garrison at Vindolanda near Hadrian’s Wall thought they had cracked confidential waste disposal when they chucked their birch bark letters and lists in the nearest ditch. Yet here we are 2000 years later reading their sick lists – sickness absence a perennial public sector problem – and birthday party arrangements. I wonder if a memory stick in a ditch would last 2000 years?
Still, working through my email archive has been startling in many ways. Who knew that it took so many emails to sort out a single train ticket? But what’s been more chastening is looking at the dates and times of some of this email traffic. High days and holidays, anniversaries and birthdays, early mornings and late nights are all represented. it all seem so important then.
It’s a normal function of human experience that what seems crucial now is, from a proper perspective, just another pothole on the road of life. Massive at the time but practically invisible in your rear view mirror.
I’m hoping that – with some perspective – the big pot hole coming which looks so intimidating as I hurtle towards it will assume its proper dimensions as I speed away.
Meanwhile it’s on with the admin. Where’s that checklist?