Channel 4 show us the way
Last night I was contemplating enjoying the final of Masterchef when my remote control happened upon Channel 4 news. The trail from the newsroom told me that if we could just hang on until 7:35 (way past Masterchef time) the intrepid news team would reveal true scale of local authority spending.
For those who missed the revelations (you didn’t miss much) you can see the full story here.
I’m not one to paraphrase too much but the basic tenet of the report was that:
1) Staff in local authorities are sick a lot
2) Some councils have tried to address the problems they have with sickness by offering prizes, incentives etc to reward those staff that have 100% attendance rates.
3) Making staff redundant entails making redundancy payments which can cost a lot of money
And sad to say that was it.
I have numerous problems with Channel 4’s ‘exposé’ and I shall try to be as brief as I can so that this post doesn’t become too ranty. So, in order of the most ridiculous:
1) Channel 4 news were shocked that councils would have to make redundancy payments when they reduced their workforce: Really, is anyone out there shocked by this? And what are the alternatives? Does Channel 4 news suggest we just walk up to people, ask them to pack up their desk and leave with no payment or other care?
They may have done a but more digging and discovered that because a lot of local government staff have long tenure this can cost more but even then I’m not sure exactly what their point would have been.
2) The article constantly referred to ‘Channel 4 investigations’, ‘our investigations’, ‘we have discovered’ as if the whole piece was the product of some amazing investigative journalism. In contrast, they later admitted that much of the information was garnered using the ‘powers in the Freedom of Information Act’, or a FoI request to you and I. Basically, the geniuses of Channel 4 seem to have sent out a long stream of FoI requests and then put them into a report. These are expensive and waste a lot of council’s time.
3) The sickness issue. Ok, if I’m honest here Channel 4 had a point. Local authorities often suffer from real problems with sickness absence. However, it is actually quite a complex issue. Much of the sickness in the authorities I’ve worked for is accounted for by a small amount of staff on the long-term sick. As local government has very generous policies around sickness pay this means local authorities continue to pay staff for much longer than the private sector would.
None of this really came out in the piece which basically described local government staff as the opposite of the ‘hard Aberdeen man’.
The issue I had with the piece was what then followed as Channel 4 pivoted from criticising local authorities from having too much sickness absence to criticising them for providing incentives to staff who were not sick.
I’m not sure if I would attend work for 260 days just to get a Marks and Spencer’s fruit basket but if a £50 hamper manages to even reduce sickness absence by one day surely that is money well spent??? Channel 4 surely can’t spend the piece criticising local authorities for not tackling sickness absence (the header of the piece ‘asks whether instead of cutting councils loose, the government should be reining them in’) and then suggesting that the efforts they are taking are a waste of money.
Real reporting as to how local government can tackle the unprecedented cuts they are facing is to be appreciated but this piece just annoyed me.