Anyone who has been in local government for a fair period of time will have heard of March madness, and nearly all will have taken part it in one way or another. To the uninitiated March madness is an affliction where local government officers feel the need to use things up before the end of March and the current financial year.
It takes two forms.
The main form is the spending of budgets. Council officers are very good at watching the public’s cash for eleven months of the year. By and large they penny pinch and cut costs as far as possible and preserve their budgets as if their lives depended on it. However, once March comes round these same managers undergo a total change. They know that if they don’t spend their budget it might get taken away and therefore use March as an opportunity to find things that they’ve always wanted but not purchased for fear they couldn’t afford them. March is the month in which new equipment is bought and money is set aside for consultants to come in and do studies.
The worst example I ever heard was actually in a PCT where the managers invested their March derangement in a number of toys which would be given to children in poverty or other need. This was a good idea in theory but they massively over-ordered. Nine months later the storage space was costing too much and the toys were basically given away.
The second form of March madness involves the staff. Like the good managers with their money they have hoarded their annual leave (just in case) and then when it gets to March they need to use it up, often in big chunks! Thus, March, and especially February half-term, can be a very quiet time in Local Government offices as more than the average amount of staff are no longer there.
I’m sure this sort of thing happens in the private sector too (it is human nature after all) although it does seem more defined in the local government.
However, this year March madness has been officially cancelled.
Firstly, budget under-spends are being treated like gold-dust and the managers who can produce them are being greeted like loyal subjects bringing gifts for the king. Any saving for this year lessens the impact of the frontloaded cuts giving councils one more year breathing space to work out how to make the long term savings. The managers who deliver them are being seen as the most competent and can use this as a good indication of why they should stay in employment.
And the staff are not in any mood to be taking lots of leave. A lot of us have our interviews this month which will decide whether or not we have a job or not. Do you think many people want to take two weeks of leave right now? Do you want to be unavailable if the Director needs some urgent work doing?
So March madness is on hold for a year: Will it be back next year? I would hope not but sometimes you can’t trump human nature forever!