I sat down at my keyboard today and very quickly became confused. Nothing to do with the constant switch between Firefox or IE8 (which I use at home and everywhere else) and IE6 (which I am still forced to use at work despite it being nine years old); no, this confusion was down to the content of this post.
Part of me wanted to write about a couple of interesting little things which have happened around the office; the return of a significant colleague to the team after a secondment, the development of a very interesting programme here, a crazy conversation overheard in the toilets involving a gun (I kid you not).
Another part of me wanted to comment on the major, major changes that will be happening in just a few days, thanks to the Comprehensive Spending Review. Or perhaps about the ‘bonfire of the quangos’, which to all intents and purposes is less of a bonfire and more of a spreading of the ashes.
Then I realised that this confusion is actually symptomatic of local government at the minute. We are being encouraged to keep focussed on the little things and keep working hard, whilst being aware of (but ignoring to some extent) the fact that 20,000 quango staff and Osbourne only knows how many colleagues will potentially be out of work.
In some teams this has taken the form of an elephant in the room. People know the cuts are coming and that they will affect everything they do, but are stubbornly and studiously refusing to consider it as ‘whatever happens will happen’.
Other teams are doing nothing at all but talking about it, reading about it and blogging about it and discussing it ad nauseum, in the process neglecting their day jobs. This isn’t just today and tomorrow – this has been going on for some time to varying degrees, with no-one able to offer anything other than speculation as to what this all might mean.
The only thing for certain is that things aren’t going to go back to the way they always were. Individual roles, teams, services, directorates and even entire Councils are all going to have to rethink what they do and why they do it, even if the conclusion actually ends up being that only minor changes are needed (unlikely as that may be). Each of these will need to strip back the layers to look at what it was meant to do – not what it currently does – and see if this function is still needed. If it is still required then it needs to look at if it is in the best position to fulfil that need, and if so how best to do so.
This big thinking is not going to be easy, and people are going to forget the bigger picture in order to focus on the smaller and more immediate picture; staying employed. No-one is actually going to recommend that they are actually not needed and that their post should be deleted (although I’m sure many managers and senior officers are more than able and willing to say that about some of their subordinates, as long as they themselves stay employed).
In a few short days time, when the dust has settled, we may be able to start seeing things a little more clearly and understanding the extent to which our lives and livelihoods are going to change. I just hope that sight isn’t akin to asking Mr Magoo to do a watercolour of the Alps.