When I observed the Maily Telegraph attempting to trash the reputation and staffing levels of the Civil Service, it should have been obvious that this was merely the opening salvo of a long bombardment, and today has brought another instalment of gunnery practice as readers are told – shock horror – that some in Whitehall are on flexitime! But so are hundreds of thousands in the private sector. So what?
Another assault on anyone working here
Well, the Tel has unearthed details that suggest a working week of just 36 hours. This is then described as “generous”, a word that the piece repeats, almost in the style of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA). It is then asserted that private sector organisations would not allow “these working practices”, and that a week of 40 hours or more is the norm there.
And at this news, my bullshit detector sounded long and loud. I spent a year on an assignment relatively recently – that would be 2005/6 – for a major player in the financial sector, where the working week was 35 hours, and for mere freelances like me, that was all you worked (permanent staff, however, qualified for flexitime, along with those extra days off, just like the Civil Service).
Moreover, 35 hours was not considered exceptional in that sector, and the banking, insurance and other finance players employ tens, if not hundreds, of thousands across the UK. True, firms expect flexibility from their staff, so if there are long hours that need to be put in, folks can expect to put them in. But this, too, is no more than what is being described for Whitehall departments.
What also needs to be considered when looking at the number of Civil Servants working more hours is that the overall numbers have shrunk in the past three years. It’s convenient to parrot the mantra of groups like the TPA that there is waste, and that Government can manage with less people, but this is always made an assumption without being supported by any credible analysis.
All that the Telegraph piece does is to enable yet more embittered Tory Party “sources” to wind up readers by asserting “it is a very generous system with hardly any controls”, suggesting that many departments are left unstaffed on Fridays, reminding anyone not up to speed that Civil Servants are on “taxpayer-funded contracts”, and threatening some serious reform.
Which suggests, taken with the assault from the Daily Mail on those same workers, an organised campaign by more of those that Robin Day memorably and correctly called “here today and gone tomorrow politicians” to demonise and thereby weaken those working in the service of the Government that they are supposedly directing. It is the most bizarre, and pointless, of fights to be picking.
This, though, does not detain the hacks. That might involve actually thinking.