Public service announcement: The Gravy Train now standing at platform #1 is…

hallowe'en gravy train

Image by postbear via Flickr

Fore some time now, many people have held a (mistaken) belief that; working within the public sector gives you a free and first class ticket to ride the gravy train of career and  financial security. The first bit may have been true in part however, the latter was rarely so. Events of recent months, coupled with actual facts about private and public sector pay scales, are finally starting to debunk that erroneous myth…

Throughout my thirty years in policing, I spent a long time as a lone voice in the wilderness of public sector fiscal restraint. Concerns about the virtually unfettered expenditure and levels of almost criminal waste, generally fell upon conveniently deaf ears. Unfortunately for the public, the aftermath of this waste has now come home to roost. As a police officer it was even more irksome when operational matters were restrained, simply because of a lack of previously squandered funds. Especially when vast amounts of that money were being expended on administrative back office functions.

In many ways the root cause of the financial melt down in the public sector has been induced by management failings. Over recent years we have seen the exponential growth of self-interested and self-important management methodologies (see previous post). We have witnessed the constant growth in non ‘delivery’ functions right across government agencies and the remainder of the public sector. The NHS, the emergency services and in particular the police, have all been adversely effected by excessive growth in management and bureaucracy, to the total detriment of frontline delivery and service. These all too prevalent self-important management methodologies, in self-protecting quangoesque departments, have been the foundation of today’s cut backs.

Take Human Resources Departments as an example in point; here’s for what all intents and purpose is an administrative function. One that (like many others) has simply grown and grown out of all realistic proportion within the police service over recent years. In the force I served with it expanded from one Chief Inspector, a Sargent, a PC and half a dozen civilian clerks to, (in real terms) a relatively unproductive empire under a Human Resources Director with some 100+ staff. How can that level of expenditure be realistically justified? The public, as identified by opinion surveys ad infinitum, pay their taxes for policing not pen pushing!

Although my heart goes out to those in public sector who are facing redundancy and uncertain futures, through little fault of their own, my sympathetic ear stops there. I have little or no sympathy for the likes of HR departments, QA departments, Corperacy Review departments, SLA & Diversity Strategy departments et all. Many of these are bleating that, given the enforced staff reductions caused by government austerity measures, the levels of difficulty and tribulation they are forced to endure in their daily work is horrendous and stressful to the extreme. It’s therefore interesting to note that some HR departments are actually recruiting at present; the aim being to assist their ‘over worked’ staff implement the forthcoming cuts! Measures that could probably have been avoided if not for their own departmental growth?

Much of the public sector is simply about ‘service delivery’ to the public in our society, full stop and yes, there is a need for an administrative structure in every police force. However, it comes to something when that admin machine is actually larger than the service delivery machine in many forces up and down the land; talk about tail wagging dog!

Unfortunately today, the act of providing ‘service’ is undervalued. However, it should never be seen as a demeaning task, neither does it require you to be subservient. This is a factor espoused by the Michelin starred chef Michel Roux Jr in a recent BBC article on poor levels of ‘service’ in the UK (see my previous post).

Much of the current level of self-interest, self-importance and the self-drivers for personal ‘achievement’ that we see in today’s police service, were born in the financial industry and (sickeningly) were subsequently, widely adopted throughout the public sector. Many believed (wrongly) that to ‘achieve’ simply required you to; rise to the top, without too many mistakes and to get there as quickly as possible. All with a view to receiving the maximum remuneration plus expenses. This offensive and all too prevalent personal trait was adequately highlighted and eloquently explained by ‘Gildas the Monk’ in his Sunday Sermon post – Bankers, bonuses, and the “S” word – recently over at the Anna Raccoon Blog.

Purporting to ‘serve’ whilst hiding behind contrived service level agreements and/or cherry picked quality assurance processes, whilst self-serving your own ego or pocket, or indeed furthering the implied importance of your own little fiefdom is, in my opinion, tantamount to a criminal activity. An activity that has been apparent (and evidenced) right across the police service (and remaining public sector) for years. Resources such as The Thin Blue Line and/or The Police Inspector Blog will inform you about many of the issues.

Customer Service Announcement: “The Gravy Train standing at platform #1 is unfortunately delayed whilst engineers remove an excess of unimportant standard class carriages. Customers should note; additional 1st class carriages will be included for those in receipt of expenses and allowances. Customers should also note; they are not entitled to any compensation as the situation was beyond our control. Management apologise to customers for any inconvenience caused and normal service will be resumed as soon as possible!

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About Dave Hasney

National Coordinator for UK SMART Recovery - Previously a Recovery Worker and prior to that a Management Consultant and H&S Practitioner - Kept sane by Angling, Good Food, Real Ale & Wine - Cynical thoughts sometimes developed from others.

Posted on 18-01-2011, in Leadership & Management, Police, Public Service Babble and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. HRM, of course, was supposedly about getting rid of personnel departments as far as possible, and getting line managers into people development!

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    • Ah, thought you had shuffled off to blog from a sunnier location!
      The factor that the raison d’etra of HR was supposidly to ‘develop’ people right across the board and, line managers are (supposidly) far more professional and better trained in people management/development skills than ever they were, where is the need for masses of HR bods to continually check on the actions of the line managers?

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