When we started writing this blog there was a sense of genuine joy in our hearts. We wrote posts about council run walking schemes, the attempts of a council to ban their staff from using the stairs, inappropriate use of the ‘reply all’ button, internal fights over dress codes and what happens when someone spills a cup of coffee.
All of these posts were inspired by our sense of love for local government and our amusement at its eccentricities and foibles. And no matter what we said about our jobs and the places we worked, even when we were being serious, there was a sense of enjoyment and fun that permeated through the blog.
Unfortunately, this is no more. More and more the posts we write are serious (ish) discussions of job losses and pay freezes. Obviously, we still write other posts, but when if we do have a little poke at local government it almost feels like somehow we’re helping the Government ‘cut and cut some more’ agenda.
I make this observation because in many ways the blog reflects real life.
The past three months or so haven’t been fun at all. The whole atmosphere in local government has changed. Staff know that they are in danger of losing their jobs; hell, I know I’m in danger of losing my job. And even if I don’t lose my job I know I’ll feel really guilty that other people from my team will be made redundant so that I can keep my job.
Last week the restructure for our team was published at about 3:30pm. I had a meeting with a man in finance at 4 and wandered down to see him. I’ve never walked into a place with a worse atmosphere and I can hardly blame them; nearly half of all the people in that office were about to lose their jobs. Sufficed to say they weren’t overly keen on hanging around that day. The guy I was meeting told me he’d hoped to have some assimilation rights but hadn’t. He was now competing with the majority of his colleagues for the few un-allocated jobs. I felt bad asking him about finance to be honest… But the show must go on.
The same applied to the IT team, the audit team, the finance team and many others. The council is not exactly a happy place.
This would be bad enough but we are in Local Government where trade unions and ‘good practice’ have turned being made redundant into a peculiarly painful all around experience. Three months ago I had a pretty good idea that my job was at risk (well, to be honest I sort of knew on the 6th May… or in 2008) as all the managers were working on cuts strategies. So, for three months everyone walks around knowing that they are at risk. Then, this week it is confirmed that I am at risk, along with friends throughout the council. We then have three months to ‘consult’ during which time, unless Malcolm Glazer performs a leveraged buy out of the council, nothing will change. We then have three months during which time we will be able to interview for the jobs that remain and only then, 9 months of pain later will some of us slope off into redundancy and the rest of us prepare for the 2012 7.1% cuts. Yes, I know being approached one day and asked to leave is unbelievably painful and heartless but dragging it out for well over 6 months is a form of cruel and unusual punishment.
But the sense of malaise is not restricted simply to the fact we are losing our jobs.
The wider problem is that the narrative that surrounds these job losses is almost all negative. Whereas in the past we might have been told that we were losing our jobs but it was an unavoidable product of reductions in the tax base of UK PLC, now we’re being told that local government workers are lazy, over paid, under worked purveyors of non-jobs simply taking up room in local government until they can get their overly large pension.
Most of my friends work in the private sector and although they’ve always joked around that local government workers are a bit soft that sense is now almost endemic and many people aren’t even joking. Even Channel 4 has got in on the act.
Not to be outdone, when George Osborne announced he would protect crucial front-line services he totally ignored local government; and Mr Pickles and co seem to delight in denigrating local government in all it’s forms.
To be honest I know that some of this malaise is simply my perception of what it’s like right now and might not be any different to what my friends and colleagues in the private sector went through two years ago but it IS thoroughly depressing.
I do genuinely care about the future of local government, and to a lesser, but still meaningful, extent the future of my job and the future of my colleagues’ jobs but right now it all seems a bit like a long tunnel with the only light provided by the onrushing train.
May tomorrow bring a bit of hope!