In the naked city…

There is, or was, a team of officers in a local authority. Scattered around various departments there are, or were, 21 of them. They provide(d) support to front line services, and do (did) the necessary number crunching and whatnot to help in the ever increasing battle against arbitrary and irrelevant targets imposed by senior management so that the authority can issue a leaflet that says “94.2% of a thing was done and our target for doing this thing was 94%, aren’t we great! And we’re doing it all for YOU! (so, you know, stop moaning about your housing, street lighting, playgroups and all that gubbins)”.

Then the local authority was told that it and others like it had been incredibly remiss with its finances. Nothing to do with the banks, oh no, although this authority had placed £30m of ‘surplus funds’ with an Icelandic bank that fell over due to what must have been no fault of its own. “Cut! Slash! Burn!” came the command, and the senior managers got together to see what reasonable and expedient savings they could make…

After much soul searching and gnashing of teeth it was decided that the team of 21 officers that provided support to the many depts of the authority could be cut to 4, with 2 others to support them. So, after the battle between the 21 officers for the 4 posts the new team was in place. In charge of the team are 4 ‘seniors’ who line manage the officers and one manager. It’s not all bad news, though; during the ‘restructure’, the decision was taken to increase the grades of the seniors and manager, and the two managers who put it all together ensured that their particular services weren’t hit too badly.

At this point we shall digress into some technicalities about grades and pay scales in local government. These are wide ranging and the grades for certain posts may vary from authority to authority depending on location, size of authority, number of citizens served etc. – roughly speaking, however, once a local government worker hits the ‘PO’ grades, they are in a post of some responsibility perhaps entailing junior management duties at the lower levels. Click on this pdf link to see LG pay scales – they’re for 2010 but local government pay has been frozen so they still apply. In the team we’re discussing the two ‘underlings’ are on Scale 6; the officers are on PO1-3; the seniors on PO4-6; the manager is on PO7.

Speaking of that team, it was decided that after cutting the officers, the ones that do the work, by 80% the previous year, further cuts needed to be made. The two Sc6 workers were told they no longer had jobs and the four officers who had jumped through hoops for their jobs less than a year previously were told they had to do it all over again as they were being cut to 3 officers. The seniors and manager were so important, however, that they were allowed to keep their jobs at £40-50k each. Take a look at the organisational paradigms of most organisations and you’ll see a pyramid like structure from the top down. But take a look at our little team and you’ll see it’s become somewhat top heavy, almost an inverted pyramid.

So what am I saying here? That the cuts should be made but more equitably? Well, no, not quite. I don’t believe that these cuts are ‘necessary’, but if you’ve read my previous posts you’ll know that – this is all the result of an ideological attack on the public sector, the fruition of three decades of the neoliberal project yada yada yada…

Despite the best efforts of us all we’re at the stage where cuts have, are, and will continue to be made and an important issue has arisen in terms of how they’re being implemented. The government has assured us that front line services will not be hit hardest, and yet a steady pattern has emerged where the jobs being lost are at that cutting edge where the work is done to provide those services.

I have written before on how the management practices of the private sector have been seen as the answer to the ‘problems’ in the public sector. This isn’t just a Conservative idea – Gordon Brown, the great ‘defender’ of the public sector, said when talking about the Private Finance Initiative that its rationale is to:

“… declare repeatedly that the public sector is bad at management, and that only the private sector is efficient and can manage services well.”

The result has been that the number of management and senior management posts in local government, and other public services, have dramatically increased over the past 10-15 years. Let’s take as an example the service that I used to work in: in 2000 the service was lead by a PO6 officer with several PO4 officers beneath them; in 2011 the service is lead by someone on a SM (senior management) scale with four PO8 managers beneath them. Further up the ladder there has been an influx of PO4-8 officers dedicated to ‘strategy and performance’ as the target led culture of the private sector has taken hold and the importance of being seen to produce results has overtaken the need to actually provide services. This has resulted in public services taking on an almost capitalist structure and ethos as those at the top reap the rewards of those who do the work, and what happens in capitalism when ‘profits’ are threatened? The workforce is cut.

I was a ‘senior’ at grade PO2 in a team of 11 providing an essential front line service – my fellow senior and I line managed four officers each and we had a team leader above us. Towards the end of last year we were told that two seniors was one too many – compare that to the above (factual) example I have given of a back office, corporate service. Other back office corporate services haven’t been touched at all.

In April this year I was made redundant from my service along with many other experienced and capable officers. Further cuts are being made but so far those on PO4 and above have hardly been affected, and no top managers have gone – I say ‘top’ with regard to their place in the organisation, not their performance.

The fact is that unjustified cuts are being made inequitably with those at the top protecting themselves and their favourites. The consequence of this is that the public sector will become more top heavy with figures and reports being increasingly massaged in order to show ‘results’, however, the true results will be a cataclysmic reduction in the number and quality of services provided and the lives of millions being adversely affected. Then, in the not too distant future, the government will say “Look, public services just aren’t working, let’s give them to people who can do the job”, and bids will be made, services ‘rationalised’, and the needs of people will be subsumed by the needs of the shareholders. It’s already happening.

And that’s the story of the little team that couldn’t but had to because these are difficult times and we’re all in it together. Right? This has been just one story; in the naked cities (and towns, and shires), there are millions…

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