In spite of what follows, I still stand by what I have previously said, working for the Council is still preferable to direction from Central Government. Not only for the worker who has immediate contacts and sees the work in detail, but for the public he serves.
When I was looking for my first engineering job I had taken part in an interview at the City Hall where I was faced by a phalanx of councillors, probably about fifteen. They had asked a number of questions without getting to the meat, when I decided I would ask the question in the forefront of my mind – How much? The answer appalled me, they were only offering two hundred and fifty pounds a year for a graduate, aged 28, with a wife and two children to support. I refused and went and took a job with a consultant at two hundred and sixty. Those were hard times.
Thinking of the phalanx reminds me of when Sophie was looking for a teaching job and the occasion when I tried to help my boss-of-the-day to get a job in a rural County Council. In Sophie’s case we had to write out her application, her CV, have her references photocopied and send copies of everything to twenty-six councillors. We were not so much surprised as astounded, but even that was nothing to the indignity suffered by John, a friend, and my boss at one stage. He had never learned to drive, or if he had he had allowed his licence to expire. For whatever reason he had no car and so he asked me to chauffeur him around from councillor’s house to councillor’s house. The councillors were mostly farmers and their homes were scattered over a whole county. The weather had been wet for some time with the result the lanes were like scrambler tracks.
We started after work and finished in complete darkness with the humiliation of sliding into a gate post and damaging the car. That, however was not the real humiliation. At each house we came to, he went and knocked the door while I stayed in the car. As the evening wore on, when he returned to the car he became progressively disheartened at the berating he received from some who resented being canvassed and said that they were totally against it, while others told him it was a good thing he had come because they would not have voted for him if he hadn’t. The only way he could have succeeded was to have learned more about the system and done his homework better. He should have sought out someone on the Council to advise him of whom to canvass and whom not to, all he had been told was that if he hoped to get the job he should canvass all, which he did; but then he was English, with the mistaken idea that professional people were employed purely on their merits and that interviews were above board. He didn’t get the job.
I remember a case where the engineer to a road contractor fell out with that contractor and resigned. A while later he answered an advertisement for a job with a Council and was told by a senior member of the staff that it was a walk-over as he was more experienced and better qualified than the other candidates. When he asked later why he had not been successful he was told, in confidence, that the contractor had objected to his candidature, saying he, the contractor, would not get fair treatment from the engineer in future dealings, and the Council then appointed another candidate. As I have said before, such is the way of the world. I remember when a senior member of staff canvassed the liftman, because the latter had political influence. Everyone knew – they tend to in a council, and probably in consequence that was why he was not appointed.
These days there are rumbles in the jungles of local authorities on many counts, Water tax at the head, but those Councils are no longer as autonomous as they were until the 70’s. It was then Central Government lived up to its name and took over most of the powers and things have gone down hill ever since. Local Government means by the people for the people, if you have a beef about something, you can actually hammer on the Councillor’s own front door, or vote with your feet at the next election. Central Government is remote, can’t see the local detail, can’t address local problems – paints with a broad brush. There is the iniquity of the Manifesto, which few read for National Elections and is a license to do anything, as voting is on Party lines not policy; but is devoured for local ones because it is local