Briefly, I have worked in consultancies, contracting, quangos, local government and central government, as a technician in the Navy, or as a civil engineer in the rest.
Let us first examine Local Government as I knew it, At the top is a Mayor and the Councillors. These are men and women who have worked their way up either rung by rung, are astute in business, or have been professionals. Few are young, and in consequence they are experienced in business and in life. Some are ambitious, some have a sense of duty, and some are there because they were persuaded.. Not all are honest, but that can be said of life generally. Local authorities are not given due credit, and are tarred by a broad brush for the mistakes of a small minority.
The next layer starts with the Town Clerk, then the heads of sections, and finally the General Staff within the city or town hall, and once in the waterworks the sewage works, mending roads, collecting rates and doing all the things that local authorities used to do. The heads of sections have generally been promoted from within, having been in the Council direct from school or university, and worked their way up partly through selection by ability, and dead man’s shoes. It is only in exceptional cases, such as the development of a new department that recruitment is taken from outside.
The history of the Council, its work and its records are not just on paper but in the minds of the staff because its their life. Councils employ some people who would not be employed by industry, thus giving dignity to those whose accomplishments are below par. I believe that this aspect, in this day and age, may have gone by the board. The benefit to the public is that they have easy access, to both the councillors and the council staff. The benefit to the staff is that they don’t have to go far to solve a problem, merely upstairs and downstairs, where they can discuss it face-to-face and generally find a solution. Surprisingly Quangos operate very much like local authorities on a smaller scale, and thus have the same advantages.
Central Government as a statement is a non sequitur, it is generally not central, but miles away, such that the public has rarely contact with those governing or carrying out the instructions of those governing – it’s a paper chase. The government is a collection of people either put forward by local wards, or often put forward by political factions. Like local government they are voted in, and sit with their own kind, while there are a few who are independent. We all know the problems of a government with total sway, but unlike local government which only affects individually a small portion of the electorate, central government affects the whole country, so the good or evil that it does affects us all, not just a small proportion. The opposition has a problem, it wants to get into office itself, so has to be critical. but if the government is operating sensibly, the opposition has no foothold, the government has drawn its teeth, so there are times when the House of Commons is pure histrionics. One other problem is that people are put in office for experience as much as need, and with time are shifted about, so the continuity is maintained not by the members of parliament, nor by the senior civil service, who also get shifted about for experience, but mainly on paper, and if there is a change of location, quite often a lot that paper is lost, along with the continuity
The Civil Service, graded from Eton and Oxbridge first-class honours, right the way down to the tea boy are situated in ivory towers and only communicate with one another and the public on paper. Technocrats are rare in the upper reaches of the civil service, with the result that those at the coalface have difficulty in persuading their masters, the senior civil servants, of the necessities of which they’re trying to convince them. By the same token the public can only contact their MP if they have a problem, and the MP has to contact the Minister and the Minister probably has to contact his civil servants to send a reply in writing back down the chain. The MP is sincerely doing the best he or she can, it is just the sterile system which stultifies question-and-answer – communication.
I trust I have made a good case for going back to the old ways where everything that really affected our lives was controlled locally and we had access.