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March 14, 2009

Why I hate Civil Servants

In these financially disasterous times everyone is vulnerable, none more so than those who have been made redundant. Such is the fate of one of my fellow MuNuvians - Practical Penumbra aka Suzie. She used to run a multiscreen cinema complex in her home state in the US. A little over a month ago her employer decided to close. Just like that, no warning and no consultation. Suzie has paid her taxes and contributed to social security as long as she worked, so now, she thought, it was time to sign on and get the benefits she is entitled too. Pity her employer fouled up the social security number for her contributions - not something she could or necessarily would spot. But enough for the bureaucrats who are supposed to "serve" her, to withold any payment.

This is why I hate Civil Servants. They are, without exception, parasites on any society, but thrive especially in any society which falls for the line that "management" is a matter of following a set of "rules" determined by - you've guessed - Civil Servants. The experience of Suzie at Practical Penumbra who was made redundant five weeks ago. Her claim for unemployment benefits is now being shuffled from in tray to in tray. "Enquiries are being made is all the answer she gets, yet, nothing is being looked at, the file is still lying on a desk somewhere (One of the parasites actually admitted that!) and it seems unlikely that there will be any movement in under six months if she is lucky. This is typical of the way the Civil Service handles their cock-ups. It doesn't matter where you are in the world, there is always some damned Civil Servant who will slavishly follow the "rules" and deny you what you have paid for through your tax while happily pocketing a huge amount of that same tax for doing absolutely nothing useful at all. As for actually doing what they are paid to do - forget it! As for admitting they may have got something wrong - forget it, Hell will be 10,000 years into an Ice- age before that is even likely.

I recommend that you read her story and weep. This is absolutely typical of every civil service I have ever had to deal with and I have dealt with several over the years.

In my career I have had to attend numerous meetings presided over by civil servants. The minutes never record the discussion, just that there was one, they never record a decision, because there never is one. By keeping it "corporate" they avoid blame of it goes wrong. The "Minister" is always the fall guy and always the excuse. I have lost count of the number of times I have been told it was "the Minister's decision", yet, when you confront the Minister (as I have done twice!) with the facts he turns to the civil servant and demands "why wasn't I told about this?" Of course they have had their revenge, I have been sidelined in my career and eventually retired without recognition, but I know where they are hiding the skeletons and one day I will have my moment, always assuming someone else doesn't get there first.

There is only one thing wrong with every civil service. It exists. There is only one way to cure it - make every civil servant responsible for everything they do wrong and that means all the way to the Permanent Secretaries right at the top. Make them responsible - if the Minister takes a fall they should go too! The list of things the civil service in the UK have destroyed, degraded to the point of uselessness or simply "managed" out of existence is long enough to fill a book. Those who have encountered the "Prince 2" system of Project Management will have rapidly (Unless they are a Civil Servant and therefore completely unable to identify reality when they see it) discovered that it is completely and utterly useless. A paper exercise which is so bureaucratic it does nothing except drive the project costs sky high and all technical staff involved to despair. Prince 2 has never delivered a project of any descriuption on time or on budget, yet it is the Treasury's ONLY permissable "Project Management System".

If the "Rules" do not allow you to do a job efficiently, don't think they can be amended. The "Rules", accroding to the Civil Servant applying them, were invariably "made" by the Minister, Parliament or - worst of all - the Treasury. B******t! They were usually written by the idiot you are talking too, or, if they were by some miracle "made" by any of the usual scape goats, they were merely signed by some twit who didn't understand them when they were shoved in front of them. Take my word for it, I have worked alongside some of these morons, their only problem is that their egos are so huge they can't see anything else and they are completely and utterly incompetent. Sadly it goes all the way downward as well. Human cloning? Just look at the Civil Service in any given country. Toe the party line, suppress all desire to actually do anything that serves the people you are supposed to be serving and you'll do very well indeed. Might even get a Knighthood out of it.

Suzie's experience of the American Civil Service is a case in point. The fact that she is trying to sort out a problem which has serious consequences for her (loss of home, etc.) just doesn't register with them at all. So what if their "investigation" of her case takes all year? It's only another benefit claimant. Another tax payer trying to take money back from the taxes they have paid toward the civil servant's pension scheme (Bomb proof) or the civil servants salary (also bomb proof) and which the civil servants of every society see as their right to spend, waste and withold as they see fit. The very term "Civil Servant" is an oxymoron - I have yet to meet any who are either civil or servants. In fact I know one very senior Civil Servant who is unqualified to do what he does, yet happily takes home an annual salary of £160k, looks forward to a pension almost two thirds of that (with a substantial lump sum commutation!) and whose contribution to the good governance of this country includes the delisting of Blue Tongue as a notifiable disease (You can't cure it so don't report it!), a hugely expensive computer scheme which is now running over budget and undelivered (from his previous post) and who will sit through every meeting with experts and then demand a single paragraph summary of the discussion with "a decision I can take to the Minister".

It is my belief that the Civil Service is a genetic defect. We should sponsor genetic research in order to identify the gene and eradicate it.

Pray for Suzie. Unfortunately prayers targeted at the death of the appropriate civil servant are unlikely to meet with Divine approval. Frankly, the Devil must be laughing his head off - Civil Servants are far more effective at driving people to despair than millennia of demonic activity. Pratchett is right - the Devil and demons don't have the imagination.

Posted by The Gray Monk at March 14, 2009 03:01 PM

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While I have no love of the Civil Service, the real problem here is the manager who screwed up the SSN. My wife and went through this for our taxes one year, here company swapped two numbers. We caught the mistake early but had a hell of time fixing it. I know the Civil Servants follow the rules slavishly because they are told they will be F**ked if they don't. What they are not told is that most people feel they are too stupid to think on there own, so make the rules so they can't make things worse. But , it also means they don't fix any problems either.

Posted by: skipjack at March 17, 2009 03:25 PM

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