Thursday, 4 August 2011

The invisible man on Twitter

- Oliver Letwin on Twitter

Clearly, Mr Letwin is a man of few words on twitter, although he recently said a mouthful elsewhere:

Oliver Letwin, the coalition's policy minister, has revealed the government's determination to instil "fear" among those working in the public sector, who he claimed had failed for the past 20 years to improve their productivity.

I really have no idea what he means.

Although at a recent social gathering, a Treasury civil servant tried to convince me that civil servants are not overpaid, by outlining the salary the Treasury's head of Child Poverty was likely to attract.

When I pointed out that in real terms, the UK not only has no actual poverty, but actually has no idea what poverty even looks like, I could see the rolling eyes. When I pointed out that the average person in Africa would regard the life of the meanest, poorest dole-bludger in a Glasgow tenement as a life of complete luxury and ease, the penny dropped.

The problem is not that there are not hard-working civil servants. I'm sure that if you looked around hard enough, you could find a handful. But even if you ignore the bureaucratic empire-building that goes on, with five people doing the work of two, there is still the fundamental problem of productivity. That the Treasury has a department, however small or large it may be, to deal with a problem that does not exist in reality, but only exists in the minds and tick-box targets of empire-building civil servants, simply indicates where a large part of the problem is.

My employer is a massive, bureaucratic monster. But even they don't employ a Department of Child Poverty. It's got nothing to do with the continued success of the business. (This despite my employer having a positively annoying number of diversity and inclusion fora and voluntary social outreach programs.)

But the Treasury gets money no matter what it does. And perversely, the more it fucks up and the more stupid ideas it has, the more of our money it can take.

In essence, for every hard-working civil servant (apparently 14-hours a day is a lot!) there are rooms full of dross, people who may mean well, who may have families to feed and all the rest, but in truth are just sucking up everyone else's money and resources and there are also entire departments that exist for no other reason than somebody with sufficient clout in the organisation wanted them to exist.

Letwin, architect of the coalition's plans to reform public services, told a meeting at the offices of a leading consultancy firm that the public sector had atrophied over the past two decades.

I think Letwin is wearing rosy specs here. The public sector has been atrophying since it was born.

In controversial comments angering teachers, nurses and doctors, he warned that it was only through "some real discipline and some fear" of job losses that excellence would be achieved in the public sector.

Ah, "teachers, nurses and doctors", the Holy Trinity of the left-leaning twat. Because of course, admin clerks and the rest don't really matter do they? But anger a teacher and WON'T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHEEEEEELDREN? Not to mention the saintly, untouchable NHS!

So, every other civil servant, be told: you don't matter. Only teachers, nurses and doctors matter. Even the Guardian thinks the rest of you are scum**.

Letwin added that some of those running schools and hospitals would not survive the process and that it was an "inevitable and intended" consequence of government policy.

"You can't have room for innovation and the pressure for excellence without having some real discipline and some fear on the part of the providers that things may go wrong if they don't live up to the aims that society as a whole is demanding of them," he said.

And this is the nub of the argument, and probably the only time I'm going to agree with an MP.

I compete in my job. I have to impress my manager just to keep my job. I have to compete with the people in my team, I have to show willing, I have to excel to show I deserve my bonus. There is always some or other headcount reduction (or other cost reduction) program going on. But because I'm doing my job well and making the difference, I'm not worried about losing my job.

I would do it anyway, because it's not just the technology that excites me, I like making a difference and making problems go away. But if I was going to collect the same salary whether I bust a gut or not and I knew I'd never lose my job, I'm pretty sure there would be days where I would pull a sickie or get hammered the night before and sit in the office playing Freecell. And who knows, it might get to be addictive and maybe I'd stop working altogether, become a Wally in Dilbert-speak.

But along with the carrot of job satisfaction is the fact that I'm a parent with a kid to feed and my job is not guaranteed for life.

"If you have diversity of provision and personal choice and power, some providers will be better and some worse. Inevitably, some will not, whether it's because they can't attract the patient or the pupil, for example, or because they can't get results and hence can't get paid. Some will not survive. It is an inevitable and intended consequence of what we are talking about."

I really can't see why lefties are up in a froth over this. Do they really believe that if someone is a shit doctor and patients don't want to see them, they should get paid (and presumably still be doctors as well)? If someone is a useless teacher, would you want them teaching your kids?

Of course you fucking don't. So why the hell are you pretending that any of this is controversial?

*@oliverletwin hasn't tweeted yet.

**This is a joke. I think.


David said...

Don't try and pretend that the "private sector" is any more productive or any better at managing costs.

I used to work for a major consultancy company (albeit as a dogsbody rather than anything important) and, rather than hand the surplus on the contract back to the client, we were all taken out to the most expensive champagne bar to get royally clattered. Efficiency? What's that again.

I admire your optimism in saying that competence protects your job. If only. The second that they can get an Indian man to do your job for a quarter of your wage you'll be handed your P45 without even as much as a word of thanks.

That said, generally I do agree with what you're saying. The Government should be as small as possible, doing things that the private sector should not do (basically looking after the vulnerable). It shouldn't have a "drugs tsar" or any of that bollocks- if someone wants to get off their face on Colombian Marching Powder then it's no concern of anyone but their own.

Dippyness. said...

Couldn't agree more! GP's over here get paid the same for seeing patients as in England, yet in my personal opinion do half the work! Mind you, most people here accept shit service, so I guess it's to be expected!

Anonymous said...

Outstanding post Obo

David: "rather than hand the surplus on the contract back to the client"

Why should they? If anybody should get the surplus it is the owners of the business. At least this is not money being gouged by force out of a taxpayer. Furthermore, if the client was the govt (A govt dept) then the snivel serpent that signed the contract should be the one getting caned for this, not the supplier who negotiated the contract.

patently said...

Do they really believe that if someone is a shit doctor and patients don't want to see them, they should get paid (and presumably still be doctors as well)?

Yes, they do. Some of them.

When I was about to start my first job, I discussed the terms of the contract with a left-wing teacher who was a friend of the family. She was shocked that there was a notice period within the terms. I pointed out that I had never done this job before, that I was new to the profession, and that I might be rubbish at it. She still didn't understand. I said I thought it was perfectly reasonable that I would be dropped if it turned out that was useless as an employee.... still no comprehension.

So far as she was concerned, a job was a job until you felt like leaving.

patently said...

rather than hand the surplus on the contract back to the client, we were all taken out to the most expensive champagne bar to get royally clattered.

So the client got what they wanted at the price they agreed, and the firm thanked its employees for doing well with an evening out.

The problem here is... what, exactly?

RantinRab said...

The private sector has it's own 'public sector' growing within it like a cancer. Some companies are more infected than others. Sadly, my employer seems to be going down that road.

I refer, of course, to the unproductive hell that is human resources.

David said...

The evening out was rebilled with the specific purpose of not handing the money back, which (I was told, anyway, by someone who'd know) is what otherwise would happen and was what the contract agreed.

Not that I cared, I got nicely refreshed on champagne, but it's hardly efficient.

Don't even start me on the cancer that is HR though.

Sean O'Hare said...


Well said. I couldn't agree more. In the IT field you can also add that lot in QA who spend all their time dreaming up procedures, best-practice etc. which generally involves extensive box-ticking, without much if any experience of their own.

Nightwatchstate said...

David, the private sector is voluntary in the context of property rights; if society does not value what a business provides, it goes bust and the resources are broken up and brought back into the economy. The public sector however is disconnected from voluntary supply and demand - Taxation means one is Forced to pay. Therefore, there is no incentive to be cost efficient whatsoever. Even a natural monopoly in the market has to satisfy customer wants; however, the giant vampire octopus of the states coercive monopoly can provide crappy product and overcharge up to the point of revolution. Whether or not the private sector is not efficient enough is subjective, what is objective is that companies that don't provide enough to society make a return go bust.

Nightwatch out