You know those friends or acquaintances that you start to avoid because they always seem to be asking for something for free? Well I’m starting to feel this way about the Civil Service. This morning I have had a request from a senior management team in one Whitehall department to use the RSA House for free for an awayday ('we just don't have any money to pay for a room'), and I have been asked to spend half a day on the platform at a civil service conference for which – as the e-mail said – 'there is no budget for speakers’ fees'.
The Coalition is not only taking billions of pounds of funding away from the charitable sector it seems the Civil Service itself now wants to be seen as a worthy cause for charitable donation. No one can say the Big Society doesn’t involve doing things differently!
In these difficult times we must question everything and accept few excuses for not using resources as effectively as possible. So this is my question today, one to which I am genuinely seeking an answer. Why is it with nearly two and half million unemployed that everywhere I go in central and south London there are road and pavement works which are an eyesore, clog up traffic and create pedestrian bottlenecks (for example in Piccadilly Circus, and Covent Garden) but which NEVER have anyone working on them in the summer evenings or at weekends? These works are not in residential areas so even without floodlights there is no reason why the work couldn’t go on until late into the evening
I have asked several people this question and been told variously that (a) it's all council red tape (b) a lot of contracting for this kind of work is basically delivered through a corrupt cartel which has no interest in doing jobs more quickly (c) there aren’t enough skilled workers to oversee out of hours labour. But none of these excuses satisfy me and, even if any were true, there must be ways round them.
It is now making me so angry that one day I might leap over the plastic barrier and start laying paving stones myself. So to save me from over-heating or being arrested please, someone, tell me why we can’t employ more people, do the jobs more quickly, get London moving and make our city more attractive.
PS As it’s Friday and I try to be a bit more cheerful ahead of the weekend, I will soften my ranting with a joke:
A building foreman is interviewing an Irishman for a job. Being a bit of a prejudiced bigot the foreman decides to ask the builder a very basic question ‘tell me Patrick’ he says ‘what’s the difference between a girder and a joist’? To which Patrick replies with not a hint of sarcasm ‘ah well, that’s simple, Goethe wrote Faust but Joyce wrote Ulysses’.
We shouldn’t underestimate how far our societies have pulled apart. Yet there is hope for renewal, says Anthony Painter. The question is not whether we come together – but how.