Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally

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Public sector incompetence

As discussed previously, the obstructive nature of Council Officers was the most frustrating part of being a Councillor for four years.

Unfortunately, incompetence was also an issue: instructions were not followed, reports were not written in time, the Monitoring Officer did not understand Standing Orders (i.e. the rules of debate and motions) at Full Council etc.

The incompetence also continued to be obvious even when I stepped down as a Councillor.  The Council honours former Councillors with a Mayoral presentation of a Certificate when the Councillor stands down, which states the number of years the person served the people who elected them.  This is a considerate thing for the Council to do and is appreciated by former Councillors.  Well at least it would be if Officers actually invited the Councillors to the presentation.  I only found out I was getting a certificate because my wife, who continued to be a Councillor, told me the presentation was taking place.  Several of my fellow former Councillors didn’t receive an invitation and therefore did not turn up to be rightly honoured at the Annual Meeting of the Council.

Now, I had let this drop but when my wife received her Council correspondence this morning, I felt compelled to write this post.
The letter envelope was addressed to my wife but the correspondence read as follows:
“The Worshipful the Mayor of Ipswich, Councillor John Le Grys, cordially invites Cllr. G.J. Maclure and Guest to join him…for a Reception and a Presentation of the Freedom of Entry to the Borough of Ipswich to The Royal Anglian Regiment.

For my wife to be shown the discourtesy of being sent an invite to not herself but her husband who is no longer a Councillor is at best incompetent and at worse disrespectful to an elected representative of the People at the Council.

Being the public sector, there will be zero redress with no officer challenged for making these mistakes mentioned above, so I don’t expect the situation to improve.  I guess we just have to accept it and keep paying for the privilege.

Now I realise the above is trivial compared to the incompetence seen elsewhere, as discussed before, but it is symptomatic of a culture of incompetence and “no blame” in the public sector, which left unchecked does lead to people losing their lives.


"I don’t do blame"

These are the words of Sharon Shoesmith, the woman who oversaw the children’s services department at Haringey Council that allowed Baby Peter to die.  This post’s headline also sums up the culture that exists in the public sector which leads to hospital doctors having to prescribe food and water because they cannot trust the nurses to deliver it, as revealed in last week’s Care Quality Commission reports on NHS Care, and why rail commuters are left on stationary packed trains for hours on end in conditions it would be illegal to transport animals by.

I believe the main reason for the above taking place is not because of some systemic problem or infrastructure “serving” the workers but because no person is held accountable for their failings and mistakes.  Performance Management is a meaningless concept in the public sector which merely pays lip service to HR and is not used to actually improve the performance of the individuals who are treating our elderly or maintaining the railway tracks and signalling (i.e. Network Rail), let alone sack them for incompetence.
The systems, processes and targets put in place in, for instance, hospitals has stripped the need for compassion out of nurses and doctors at a corporate level and this needs urgent reform.  But it requires human beings to voluntarily submit wholesale to acting like a drone – some people find this easier than others and it tends to be those people who, as a nurse, won’t help an elderly patient out of bed to use a commode (as happened at Ipswich Hospital).

There are many good nurses, doctors, teachers, engineers and managers in our public services but there are, unfortunately, a sizeable number who the public have lost trust in.  This is never more so than in the NHS.  Speak to people with elderly parents in hospitals and they will tell you horror stories regarding how some nurses treated their mum or dad.

It pains me to say it but politicians are to blame for this, not for the knee-jerk socialist reason that “all Tories are evil” but because politicians of all Parties offer such unequivocal praise for NHS staff. You always hear about “hard working nurses” but never about the “incompentent nurses” which need to be rooted out of the organisation.  If, as an incompetent nurse or GP, you always hear your politcial masters saying how wonderful you are, you eventually start to think you can walk on water.  And at that point, the need to do a good job (for risk of losing that job) goes out the window and then you end up with situations where the standard of care on our hospital wards is so bad it is actually illegal.

Public sector workers who make a positive difference in our schools and hospitals and on our railways are let down by a culture which allows poor performance of their colleagues to go unpunished.  This needs to be uprooted by empowering managers to deal with poor performance and incompentence.  The only way this is going to happen is if the politicians provide their public backing and HR departments back their managers.  The vested interests will rear up and fight very hard but with political leadership this can be defeated.  Then the public, who let’s not forget pay for every penny spent on wages, equipment, nice hotels etc, might start to receive a better service, which they rightly deserve.