18 April 2012

Fairy Tales, Farces and Pantomimes

In a land that time has since forgotten I started my first job at the tender age of 16 in what was then the Inland Revenue. Cue customary boos and hisses. I don't want to paint an over rosy view of those far flung days of the late 1970s but things were different. Once trained at whatever grade or level, you were given responsibility, an allocation of work, for a set of taxpayers as they were then known, rather than the so called customers of today. On a day to day basis you looked after those people, dealt with all correspondence or referred it upwards if that was necessary, took all telephone calls and if they came into what was quaintly called 'the counter' (now an enquiry point)you went to see them. Hopefully you answered their questions, resolved problems and disputes and although nobody has ever enjoyed paying tax, you provided a decent service to your public.

Of course there were slackers, show me any work place back then that didn't carry dead weight but they were a minority. The vast majority of the civil servants I worked with and for, were hard working people who took a pride in providing a good public service. The fact that you had your own allocation of work gave you ownership and responsibility. I'm not sure what the set up for allocating work is now but what I do know is that you cannot any longer speak to the actual officer responsible for your taxation affairs. I suspect that this is because there is not actually any ownership at all. If you telephone it is to a helpline, where to actually speak to a person it is necessary to endure several minutes of 'look at our website' propaganda, followed by 'we're extremely busy, why not call back later...if you insist' and then Muzak. Eventually you speak to a person who is not responsible for the letter that you received, who cannot put you through to the person who wrote that letter but who merely makes a note of your call to 'pass it on'. If you visit one of the few remaining local tax offices, you will be encouraged to use the free telephone to the helpline.

Those big bad Unions warned of all this and how public services would be affected many years ago when Thatcher first started slashing at the numbers of civil and public servants. They continued to emphasise the downward spiral of services that would be available and the service given when New Labour talked of efficiencies in back room jobs, whatever they were and they tried again when 'call me Dave' Cameron began his scorched earth policy of decimating what was left of not just the civil service but of all our public services; ambulance, fire, police, local authority workers, nurses, doctors, carers, amongst some of the services that have now been affected.

Now you may think 'so what', you're not a civil or public servant, you work hard, you pay your taxes and you try to get by. You're not going to shed crocodile tears for what you may think are under worked, over paid public servants. Well you might not until you have to use one of the services that have been slashed and burned. The lack of nursing staff say, might grab the headlines. What doesn't grab the headlines is the sheer lack of quality in services that can be given now by those services we most expect it from.

I have no doubt that the vast majority of public servants loathe the fact that they no longer have the time and resources to provide the service that they would like to. This is the reality of cuts to services, you don't actually get a service and nobody wants to take ownership of your problem, serve you well and see your experience through to a decent conclusion because to do so would put them in the firing line, perhaps even illicit a complaint.

Complaints...they have unfortunately become a sad fact of life for me since Aiden's accident on 1 March and I hate it. I hate the fact that the only way you get any service at all or to obtain answers as to why something has happened be it good or bad, is to complain or perhaps to ask for details in the proscribed and official manner because nobody will speak 'off the cuff' for fear of repercussions. Even when you do complain there are still ways that can be utilised to wriggle and squirm and fail to provide a service and the mantra appears to be certainly do not provide anything in writing because it may be kept and then used as evidence against you. The reality of service in the public sector has sadly descended to this level.

We paid out money, took our choice and voted and look what we have.

If you suffer a road traffic accident the police will not attend, well not in the West Midlands anyway. Policy is such that only the most serious accidents as decided by Control, will be attended. Now I can understand this to a certain extent because you do not want valuable police time and resources utilised on a grazed knee and a slightly bent bumper. As Aiden pointed out on his blog however, woe betide you if you suffer an accident and the 999 call is treated with contempt because Ambulance Control decide it is not serious, inform the Police accordingly and you could be lying on a major route out of Birmingham, blocking two lanes of traffic, experiencing more pain than you could believe possible due to life changing injuries and then to add insult to injury, you then are unable to get the Police to mount an investigation without the involvement of a very senior officer and you cannot obtain information pertinent to events immediately following your accident because the Ambulance Service falsely hide behind third party protection mantra, totally contradictory to the advice they are given by the Information Commissioners Office.

Further insult is added when a belated investigation then finally commences a whole month or more after the accident has taken place but the results of that investigation cannot be relayed to you because a particular officer happens to be on nights and apparently an email isn't an option. Or perhaps the Ambulance service try to forget you exist and the hospital that left you breathless with their incompetency, lack of care and ignorance finally acknowledge a complaint some four weeks after it was made by letting you know it's going to be another month before they fully respond and can you tell us if you're happy with that?

This is the reality of our public services these days, this is the reality of cutting services to the bone and then cutting again. Individuals that work for the services that we all use in one form or another would like, I'm sure, to be able to provide a good and decent service and there are many examples of those individuals going the extra mile to do so but on the whole, you cannot serve the people if you're not given the resources to do so in the first place.

Of course you can use social media to put a PR gloss on how wonderful you would like the public to think you are and aren't we wonderful for embracing the brave new world in this manner but at the end of the day it doesn't matter how hard you buff away, you cannot polish a turd.


  1. And as if by magic at 14.51 WMAS respond by email saying a response is in the post!

  2. Unfortunately all too true. I wish I could rationalise my thoughts this well. I only asked for someone to tell the truth. Be it ambulance, police, hospital or insurance company. It is all too much of a coincidence that not one has managed to actually tell the truth. Not one shred of integrity amongst the lot of them.