Call me Russ L

I, Bureaucrat

Posted in Modern Living by Russ L on 6 January, 2006

Originally posted on 7/8/4

Recently, at work, we recieved the announcement that all of the casual staff would not be getting their contracts renewed.

Anyone living in the UK and paying even the slightest attention to the news will have heard about the upcoming civil service cuts – 84,000 job losses, and another 20,000 to be relocated.

I work for The Pension Service, so it won’t surprise anyone that I think these cuts are a bad idea. It’s not purely self-interest, though. I think (nay, I know) that this will have an enormously bad effect on a lot of the most vulnerable people in our society. I’m not going to stand here and argue about that at the moment. I just want to say a few words about how it has all been represented in the media at large.

One can argue about bias in the media for as long as oxygen remains, but in this instance even those opposed to policy have, by and large, taken on Mr Straw’s negative terminology. Anyone with even the slightest sense knows the power of the precise words one chooses to use.

The job losses are described as being amongst ‘Whitehall bureaurocrats,’ and there is talk of getting rid of ‘back room’ staff in order to free up resources for the ‘front line.’

Firstly, the ‘Whitehall’ part of this: it’s simply nonsense. It isn’t even something that’s being misenterpreted, it’s just rubbish. In my own particular field, the two pension centres that are being closed down outright are York and Liverpool. There are no pension centres anywhere in London. There may be some jobs lost in Whitehall, but no more than anywhere else in the country. This is a national issue. Someone has been watching too much ‘Yes Minister’ (not that I dislike that programme…)

The ‘frontline/backroom’ thing is baffling, too. Pretty much everyone meets whatever criteria you might want to give to both. Allow me to explain my job: I’m a retirement pension processor. Part of my job involves handling new claims. Sometimes, when everything goes smoothly (very rare, to be honest), this is just a matter of recieving a claim form and entering the information onto the computer. Usually, I will need to be getting in touch with either the customer, or their employer, or other benefit agencies to obtain information, be it about their National Insurance contributions, other benefits they have claimed/are claiming (and hence any changes/additions to what they may be entitled to), time they may have spent abroad, or any number of other things. Once their claims are set up and in payment, it’s the job of me and my colleagues to alter things if any changes occur that may require things to be altered. All pretty ‘back room’ so far, eh? Then, however, I am also required to spend time on the phones, and answering post that customers send in. The queries that may be presented vary massively – obviously, anything that someone could ask, they might ask. It ranges from “Could you send me a letter to prove that I’m on pension credit, please?” to “My giro has been lost in the post and I’m starving to death.” It’s not like people do one or the other – people are both ‘front line’ and ‘back room’ staff. From all the contact I have had with them, this seems to be the case in all other areas of the Department of Work and Pensions, too.

I’m trying not to get into anything that might constitute a difference of political opinion here, and merely report facts, but another thing that is often reported is that the job losses won’t make any difference to service because of new IT systems saving on work. WRONG. This really could not be any more wrong. Our new NIRS2 system crashes nationaly for an hour or so at least a couple of times a week; from what I’ve heard, the new program that the CSA are using is even worse.

I would say (and we’re getting more into opinion than fact here, I’ll admit) that there are a lot of processes that we are legally required to follow that take up a lot more time and effort than they need to, and hence are highly inefficient; I would also say that the pension service (our pension centre, at least) is very top-heavy, with a lot more staff of management/supervisory grades than are needed; the actual processing staff, however, all have more work than we can handle. Sacking us ain’t gonna help.

I suppose I would say that though, wouldn’t I?

Let’s just leave aside the irony of putting 84,000 people out of work by cutting down on jobcentres…

– Russ L



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