Sometimes you read something so extraordinary that despite re-reading it two or even three times you still doubt your eyes. I’ve just had that experience when reading a two-page piece in today’s Sunday Times – Time to Tackle Council Excess. What thoroughly bemused me was a story it told to illustrate the general non-jobness of council employees’ work. It concerned an unnamed person who, ‘… transferred from a FTSE100 company to a county council two years ago.’ This is what he told the reporters,
‘On my first day I kept asking my boss if there was anything I could do. He was irritated. He took me aside and said there was nothing I could do and there probably wouldn’t be for months.’
‘He offered me a wager. We’d pick up the phone if it rang and respond to any email that requested one, but otherwise we would do no work that we generated ourselves. Two weeks later I was £20 poorer.’
Thwock went my jaw.
I’ve managed people for 25 years or so in the public and private sectors. I simply cannot imagine any set of circumstances in which a manager of a new employee would offer such a wager. Seriously, can you? It sounds more like a script extract from Eastenders or Casualty. In fact I have a suspicion that I have seen or heard such an exchange in a drama or comedy programme. (And I will be looking.)
Presumably though the ST will have done some work to establish the bona fides of their interviewee.
Apart from the implausibility of the story my jaw went thwock for another reason. It’s what its inclusion in the piece tells me about how public servants particularly those in councils are characterised in the media. Saints or sinners. Halos or horns (to quote the great Dolly Parton).
The piece went on to lambast councils that, for whatever reason, had chosen to employ equalities officers or climate change officers or breastfeeding peer support co-ordinators. To paraphrase M&S, this isn’t any old localism it’s ST localism. Cut these non-jobs the sub-text runs and frontline services can be saved.
I was particularly intrigued by the targeting of a breastfeeding peer support co-ordinator. The article includes this job in a list headed Recent Jobs for the Boys (And Girls).
I know that science, evidence and empiricism are considered rather old-fashioned these days by many people but does anyone seriously doubt the benefits of breastfeeding? Or think that it isn’t a good idea to encourage and support mothers to breastfeed if at all possible.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence doesn’t. It has guidance (PDF) on its website outlining the benefits of such peer support programmes. And it reflects on the possibilities of joining up public and voluntary sector organisations like the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers or the Breastfeeding Network. All aiming at giving support and help to local volunteers who want to put their knowledge and experience to good use in their communities. I thought I had heard recently that this is thought to be a ‘good thing.’
The job that so exercised the ST was advertised in NE Lincolnshire in July 2010. Here’s what a local LibDem councillor has to say about the scheme of Peer Support in his ward. Available evidence from the 2010 Health Profile for the area shows breastfeeding initiation in North East Lincolnshire is ‘significantly worse’ than the England average. Probably a good idea to find ways to increase it then.
So an effective local scheme, supported by the best available evidence and arising from a significant local need equates to a ‘non-job’?
Given the increasing role of local councils in public health and the fact that public health can seem ‘funny’ to some what’s the betting that there will be more stories in future about other health-related non-jobbery. Afterall human bodies provide endless scope for mirth at their sheer wibbly-wobbliness.
Now that might be a wager I would be willing to make …