Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Public service. Why bother?

I am sick of my job. I am a happy person, with good friends, a wonderful family, health, (relative) prosperity, interests, etc., but I am sick of my job.

For a decade I have been a bureaucrat. Firstly, in local government, and latterly in a national agency. I went into public service for all the high minded reasons of the right thinking 21 year old - and also because I had never given proper thought to what I wanted to do.

So, in the last ten years, what have I learnt?
  • I've learnt that unless you have the professional autonomy of a doctor, or the career advancement potential of a senior civil servant, that job satisfaction is at the whim of those senior to you, or risks being stymied by the system you work in.
  • I've learnt that joined up government is a farce, and continually runs up against the egos of ministers and the cowardice of permanent secretaries (I could post more on this, but I'd be sacked).
  • I've learnt that in our overly-centralised state those at the very top have absolutely no idea about the realities of how policy is made and delivered and whom it affects the most.
  • I've learnt that it's not what you know, and it's not even so much who you know - what matters is who you are.
  • I've learnt that the lazy and the incompetent and the naive are effectively carried by the competent and the conscientious.
  • I've learnt that you can't get rid of the lazy, the incompetent and the naive except by restructuring and thus destabilising everything you thought you were trying to achieve.
  • I've learnt to accept that it's not me and I'm just unlucky, and I need to keep this separate from my family life.
  • I've learnt that the public need to demand more.
  • I've learnt that a meeting does not of itself constitute work.
  • I've learnt to be suspicious of public servants who consider themselves the arbiters of the public good.
  • I've learnt to reject facile solutions from Right and Left.
  • I've learnt how ill informed and pig ignorant the media are in this country of the reality of public services.
  • I've learnt how well aware the media are of their power to influence politicians and change public services.

The above smacks of cynicism, but I hope not of pessimism. I would argue passionately for the validity of the points I have made, even if those views are, at root, drawn from my personal disappointment at the state of my career. However, I would argue equally passionately for public service, indeed for bureaucracy.

Sadly, this will have to wait. Currently, public service is giving me a salary and not much else (I'm not even sure the public are getting much from me), so I can't find the energy to stick up for it.

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