The Giant Awakens
The seasons, like the slide into obscurity for Big Brother contestants, are immutable and inexorable. They have not changed for generations, although Al Gore is on a one man mission to convince us all through the wonder that is PowerPoint that things will never be the same again (not that I’m disagreeing with him, but a PowerPoint presentation?!).
Still; hot, wet, cold, wet, windy or wet, the British seasons generally roll around in the same manner on an annual basis, vaguely matching the months they fall in. We are coming to the end of summer time at the moment, and therefore life in local government can once again begin anew.
You see, it’s a curious phenomenon that occurs in the public sector – life stops for the summer holidays. I’m not saying everything grinds to a halt while we take a six week siesta, but much of the work simply slows down significantly and only begins again when the first 4×4 Chelsea Tractors are spotted at 8.30am and the volume of mobile phone music increases significantly on every form of public transport.
Some of this lull is explainable, if not entirely understandable. Public sector roles attract a lot of people who care about others, and are more likely to have families which might include school age children. With childcare being more expensive than a Kerry Katona binge weekend (assuming she doesn’t practice what she preaches and avoids Iceland), many workers take one, two or even more weeks off to take up their proper jobs as parents. Fewer people in the office means fewer people to do the work and make decisions – hence things slow down.
It’s the same around Christmas time, where getting anything done from the second week onwards is simply impossible. To be honest, with most people attending at least four Christmas parties (one for their current post, one for the post they’ve been seconded out of, one for a post they did four years ago and one totally random one where they might know someone) whatever work is actually done is not worth the electricity to power the computer (for some reason, this doesn’t have the same ring to it as its predecessor, the old fashioned paper-value comparison saying).
That being said, the needs of residents don’t do the same; if anything, they get more needy. It’s a strange relationship, where the ability of the public sector to deliver services is least when those services are needed the most. The basics are there of course, but a lot of the back-office work gets put on the back burner.
If the private sector did the same I would hazard a guess that they wouldn’t last very long. Imagine a toy shop that closed at Christmas, a restaurant that closed for dinner or a company where all of the senior officers got a nice little break from listening to each other.
In the IT flexible world that we live in this situation should not be the case. People should not be of the mindset that everything can start again in September; things shouldn’t stop at all. Flexible working should be made to work, and people should be able to work from home at hours which suit them. How hard can it be to make sure that people can access their shared drives and e-mail accounts from outside of the building?
The summer is a great chance to engage with residents as they are all trying to find different ways to occupy their children’s time, when they are more likely to be out of their homes and more willing to take part in fun and enjoyable activities, even if they accidentally end up doing some good as a result.
Come on Councils, let’s grasp the summertime with both hands and make it the season of activity, where local people can find out all about that mysterious organisation which holds sway over their lives and where we can sweep away those myths which plague us constantly.
I vote for us to move the Council to the park for the duration of August – who’s with me?