1950 – ,Local Government, Part 1

WORKING FOR THE COUNCIL I am firmly of the opinion, in spite of all that is said and apparently proven to the contrary, that a well run Council beats Central Government hands down for efficiency, economy and compassion. You may laugh, especially when I am using my experience in the much-maligned Belfast City Council as an example.
OK, so a senior member of staff did canvass the lift man when he was looking for promotion because the lift man had pull with the local politicos.
OK, so I did keep having to leave the site office when I was a student because the Clerk of Works was also a mover and shaker in the Orange Order – and at the time I was very critical. I thought the whole business ludicrous, but then I had not been a senior civil servant. Gerrymandering is objectionable, but that is in a perfect world and this one ain’t. A little gerrymandering, believe me, is preferable to the massive stupidities of the greater bureaucratic machine.
In Local Government, if something is or appears to be wrong, if something untoward happens, if you are not satisfied with something, you only have to go down the corridor or down the stairs to find someone and discover the reason for your disquiet. People don’t shift the goal posts, it is all a bit like the Navy, things have moved on little since the Council was set up and everyone knows everyone they might need to know, even in a big Council. There are no faceless mandarins sending memos, whose claim to fame is a degree in the Arts and how to buy pencils, but who are of the opinion that anyone in any other section of the Civil Service is bound to be less well qualified to make a decision.
When we were taken over by the Civil Service in 1973 we lost more than our seat in the City Hall, we lost valuable records which went back for generations, we lost the intimacy which made the whole system tick, we lost that degree of autonomy which speeds thing along in the face of difficulties and gives room for ingenuity and also compassion.
I remember when I worked for the Council and went to parties, people used to make tired jokes about my colleagues, meaning labourers on the street gangs, leaning on their shovels. I used to reply that Council workers from top to bottom were never paid as much as those elsewhere in similar jobs, but we did offer jobs to those who, while they might not actually be unemployable, would not have been taken on by industrialists. It was our civic duty to give the people of our community, where possible, the dignity of employment and to try to accommodate their meagre skills, I have never understood why that policy has been abandoned.
Still it was not all doom and gloom, in fact I believe those years and the several which followed, through the work involved starting in the Council, were the working years I enjoyed most, not least because of some of the characters I came across.

Categorized as General

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