The following post first appeared in Patrick Butler’s cuts blog in The Guardian on line on 4 February. It is reproduced here by kind permission of The Guardian.
There are many causes of redundancy. Business failure. Funding cuts. An exhaustion of available work. Bad luck too. And then we have force majeure or the tide of history. (There Is No Alternative says the government.) Whatever the cause of the public sector job losses I’ve been struck by the continuing stigmatisation of the worker bees – the bureaucrats – on which public services depend.
Everyone, it seems, agrees that bureaucrats are ridiculous, evil, faceless men and women dedicated to themselves, rather than public service. This attitude is so pervasive that it is hardly challenged. It is – to borrow a phrase – a truth universally acknowledged. And it is about as accurate as that earlier ‘truth’.
Monday night’s debate on the Health and Social Care Bill saw this lazy assertion of the worthlessness of NHS bureaucrats running wild. Hospital closures? Faceless bureaucrats. Not enough ‘frontline’ staff? Too many backroom bureaucrats. No democratic accountability for local NHS services? Yes, you’ve guessed it – those pesky bureaucrats at work again.
The constant drip feed of ill-informed observation about NHS bureaucrats ran like a gaudy ribbon through much of the debate. The many thousands of public servants – most of whom are not particularly well-paid – working in Primary Care Trusts might be forgiven for wondering what they ever did to upset the speakers in the debate. Whatever it was it must have been pretty drastic.
It’s bad enough to be worried about your job but worried about it while simultaneously being thwacked for evil – apparently beyond the bounds of imagination – seems gratuitous to say the least. No wonder so many are apparently voting with their feet. Who in their right mind would stay?
However much the government may dislike the idea it has some responsibility for the tens of thousands of public servants, like me, who are for the chop. In the front line of deficit reduction managers and organisations are trying their best to deliver staffing reductions in a rational, compassionate and careful way. Doing so against background music of: ‘public sector, rubbish’; and, ‘private sector, great.’
What price being able to move to the private sector as it takes up the slack? It’s like selling a horse in the market place while your partner gives a thorough – and inaccurate – run down of every fault and foible at the top of their lungs. Crossing sectors is pretty hard without your employer making it harder.
Public servants may be forgiven for having a wry smile at the source of some of this claptrap – professional politicians of all parties who seem to have spent a lifetime avoiding working in the private sector they extol for its virtues. Will this reticence hold good after the levers of power lose their lustre or the voters have had enough?
Of course at that point their particular public sector experience is worth a hell of a lot more to the private sector than the skills say of a prescribing adviser in a soon to be abolished PCT. Now that is depressing.