Drop everything – it’s the blue meanies!
Whom do we serve?
On paper, we serve the public. We put the public at the heart of everything we do. We value our people. We make sound decisions based on principles of Doing The Right Thing.
It seems there are some folk whom we hold in even higher esteem than the much-venerated public. They don’t appear in any mission statements of visionary intent and values, because they – supposedly – represent the public’s interest and are therefore the unnameable Holy of Holies. Hey, it stands to reason, if we put the public at the heart of everything, then the organisation representing the public should be our very heartbeat, our pulse, our pacemaker.
Who is this Holy of Holies? Why, the Inspectorate of course! They inspect our service to make sure it’s delivering stuff that’s in the public interest. Woe betide any of us if we are found “lacking” in any measurable aspect of service delivery. I’m not sure what would happen, but I don’t think it’d be pretty.
So we worship them. We spend days and weeks metaphorically rolling out the blue carpet, preparing data packs in advance of their visit so they can compare us against others and against some centrally set standards. We locate dozens of related policies and procedures which prove we are doing things properly. We write essays describing how things work, using copious amounts of officialese and deliverology double-speak to ensure our virtue cannot be tarnished with a barge pole.
And then, when it’s all compiled, some very senior person checks it with a fine toothed comb to be absolutely certain we are presenting ourselves in the best possible light, any negatives subtly smudged and blurred, all positives proudly articulated with exuberant verbosity and repeated in as many relevant sections as possible.
Following this telephone directory sized electronic submission, which will have distracted (sorry, ‘been contributed-to by’) no fewer than two dozen staff, taking them from their core jobs of actually helping serve the public or enabling others to do so, we are pleased to accommodate a week-long visit by a team of Holies/Meanies. We plan an agenda for them, arrange focus groups and meetings with people whose jobs would otherwise involve serving the public, advise them where best to sleep/eat/chat locally, and generally treat them like royalty. We debrief our staff after each meeting, trying to ascertain how well we will have been considered to perform. We despair if anyone is late to a focus group, gives a negative point of view, or fails to mention X policy or mission statement Z.
And after the circus has left town, what next? A draft report describing how well we did, and how well other similar organisations did by comparison. There’ll be a few points we need to improve upon, which we’ll then contest with the same vim and vigour as with the compilation of the initial data return, because ‘s’not fair that the Holies/Meanies have incorrectly interpreted what we do, and are criticising us unfairly. Perhaps we’ll achieve a slight adjustment to the final report, an official resubmit… fingers crossed they take the point this time before they publish their judgement for everyone to see. Phew, we must be done with this by now, surely?
Just time for few deep breaths and an attempt to spend time actually working on some tangible improvements, before the next inspection comes around. Yippee.
Hang on, hang on, WTF? Why have we just spent two months pandering to anyone at all who is “not the public”? Who holds the inspectorate to account? What’s their public satisfaction rate? How much does all this scrutiny cost and is there any genuine evidence it actually improves anything?
Sadly I can’t find the answers to these questions from my lowly position in the pecking order, but I think I am meant to be reassured to read on their website that they use their own judgement about how they inspect and what is in the public interest.
Well, I can do that too. This is my judgement: it’s in the public interest to stop stealing time from the public sector. Your government-driven ideological bias towards policies, action plans, compliance and standards may be normal around here and it may be considered “best practice”, but it doesn’t bake bread, and taxpayers are hungry.