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Monday 18 July 2011

TPA – Toilet Breaks Next

The less than stellar array of non-job holders at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) has been in action on the Freedom of Information (FoI) front once more. The problem is, though, that the big ticket items have all been covered, and so the TPA has been reduced to making requests that appear more and more to be petty and, yes, downright intrusive.

This is shown superbly by the latest FoI “campaign”, where the TPA has asked all Government Departments to provide a list of websites visited by staff, and the amount of time spent on each. Only the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) replied, and gave a list of the “top 100” sites visited. As Argos was number 12 on that list, the TPA is suggesting that DWP staff spend a disproportionate amount of their time (or, as the TPA puts it, “taxpayers’ time”) online shopping.

Of course, proving what staff spend their time doing when online is one of those hours-of-harmless-fun-for-a-rainy-day things: a window to news sites and “own brands” like direct.gov.uk might be left open all day. And no breakdown is shown between work hours and lunch or other breaks. Moreover, this line of enquiry is getting to look obsessive.

Staff in all large organisations – and many middling ones – have to account for their time, usually down to the quarter hour, or even tenth of an hour. What will come next? Is the TPA going to make a round robin FoI demanding details of toilet breaks? Will they decide to specify maximum permitted time to be spent making tea? Are there to be rules governing allowable numbers of visits to the nearest Greggs?

Maybe the TPA will proscribe looking out of the window? Or will there be a list of subjects that may not be discussed with colleagues? Will phone call details be demanded soon, and if so, will the TPA want to see full lists of numbers called, along with call durations? Will Civil Servants have to account for every time they stray more than a TPA-approved distance from their desks?

How’s that leave-me-alone libertarianism working for you right now, good TPA people?

[Note to non-job holder John O’Connell: getting your story into the Sunday Express is not a reinforcement of quality research and good journalistic practice]


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