Sunday, September 06, 2009

What went wrong

A busy day today, with the United Services Mess Annual service following the main Eucharist, a home communion to do in the afternoon and a PCC after Evensong. The load was lightened with a touch of hilarity when Bill turned up with the legal road closure notice relating to the Kidney Wales 10k run this morning. He'd cut it out of a copy of the 'Echo' to show us. The date for road closure in the published notice is Tuesday 8th September. So, somewhere along the line, a high level error had crept into the stream of information, sowing confusion in the realm of what was knowable by the public. No wonder there was no information available to the public about today in the local police station.

Thankfully, the action side of the business was operational as usual. The traffic wardens were as helpful as they could be, enabling people to get into church by car despite the road closures. But it does mean that technically speaking the closures did not have the necessary legal authorisation in place. An embarrassment, maybe a rebuke for someone in the corridors of power, but in the end still a breakdown which could have serious unintended consequences in seriously difficult circumstances.

At lunch in the Mess, I was chatting with a couple of veterans, reflecting upon wartime disasters brought about by incompentent administration or high level decision taking, observing that such things were still going on, because of the gulf between the front line and the people who sit behind desks in Whitehall who never see first hand the outcomes of decisions poorly made. The same, I thought to myself applies to people with responsibility in public administration. Political observers are always keen to cut back on administrative staffing to make things more efficient and cost effective, but the real efficiencies occur when everyone on the team is fully aware of their responsibilities, not as a theory or an idea, but as a practical reality.

When people know their jobs well, when they understand all the consequences of jobs not being done well, when all see themselves as stakeholders in an enterprise, not just place holders doing a job, maybe even flitting from job to job as befits career aspirations, or personal convenience, then an organisation becomes really fit for purpose. Maybe it is like that in some sectors of public administration, but sadly it's not universally the case. Outrage is expressed in the press about the number of discretinonary sick days off public employes take, and what it costs the public purse. The work ethic is one of the casualties of the post-modern breakdown in social concensus, and that makes it really difficult for truly excellent public service to flourish.

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