Local Hero?

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Why sell your soul to the devil in the grey suit?

How do you leave school, university, the pub, wherever and say "You know what? I'm going to actively pursue a career in Local Government...". Does anyone say this, either out loud or even under their breath? If your calling in life is to be a social worker, or care manager, or transport policy maker, then it's possible. But how do some of the people that I meet in my day to day duties - the ones who are bright, sharp, very good at what they do - end up having an email address with .gov.uk at the end?
I guess it's all about security, the idea that, like teaching, a job in local government will be a passport to working anywhere ("you know what, I'm moving to Orkney, I hear they're crying out for mid-level administrators there"). But teaching is about all sorts of challenges which seem to make half of newly qualified teachers realise, a year or two in, that they can't take it any more. I saw a newspaper ad today which said something like Work with the most exciting people in the country above a picture of a couple of keen schoolchildren. I guess that's true in some ways and I can see the appeal of shaping young minds, etc. etc.
But to drown under a mountain of headed paper, stifled by a level of conservatism which squeezes the creativity, innovation and will to leave out of the most bright-eyed job applicants who post their applications off to Your County Hall with anticipation? Hmm.
And so it was that I came to Buckinghamshire County Council, and it wasn't long before, like the reader of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, I heard the dragging of chains...

And so it begins...

In the car yesterday I heard a programme which speculated on whether people who worked for 'the public services' wiping peoples' backsides in local authority care homes were more dedicated than those who, say, worked for private companies wiping peoples' backsides in care homes. There wasn't really a definitive conclusion, let's face it, if you're wiping anyone else's backside but your own then you've either a very good or very bad reason for doing so.
Why all this? Well, for the last few years of my thirtysomething years I've been working for some local authorities in England and I'm inspired to speculate / write about / spout hot air on whether it's worth wasting the best years of ones life in the service of a faceless, grey synthetic suit-wearing organisation which treats innovation, creativity and risk-taking as if they were on a terrorism watch-list of character traits which might indicate you're getting ideas waaaaay above your station.