Service charge

The public pays for a failing civil service

It’s hard to think of an organization less worthy of the “world class” label than the Passport Office. His operations became a fiasco. It does not process requests in a timely manner. He seems to treat the public who pays for his services with disdain, while readers of this newspaper recount the extraordinary lengths they have had to go through just to have their passports renewed. This is not an easy task. Some people have had to cancel vacations or face other major inconveniences because this agency is unable to perform the role it has a monopoly on. Moreover, at the heart of the problem appears to be a widespread work-from-home culture, including by the organization’s chief executive, Abi Tierney.

Faced with accusations that the Passport Office is putting the ‘welfare’ of its staff ahead of the public interest, Matthew Rycroft, the Home Office’s permanent secretary, chose to issue a statement denying that Ms Tierney works from home. had nothing to do with the chaos engulfing the organization. Not only was this at odds with the wishes of ministers, who made clear their desire to see officials back in office, but it seemed to defy reason and evidence.

Particularly in the public sector, but sadly beyond that as well, working from home has become something of a religion, in which HR-approved mantras on work-life balance and employee satisfaction are treated as gospel. . But the costs of this policy – ​​in terms of organizational efficiency, and especially for failing bodies – can be colossal. Some employees may indeed be able to work from their kitchen table as well as from their desk, but this is not a general rule that can be adopted at all levels.

Curiously, given that the right to work from home seems to have been officially granted to some civil servants, there may not be much the government can do about it. So are we going to end up in a situation where a failing organization is allowed to head further and further towards disaster, while ministers are unable to do anything to improve the situation? If so, the government will look thoughtless and weak. He will have given carte blanche to the public service to set terms and conditions of employment for public servants that can do wonders for employee satisfaction and retention, but leave the public to pay the price.

The government is already facing accusations of drift, of lack of political ideas commensurate with the challenges facing the country. He appears to be on the back burner on everything from the cost of living crisis to the dysfunctional NHS. He cannot afford to add a lack of control over the workings of the state to the indictment against him.