Sunday, 30 October 2005

Blame and Fame

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I think it was Issac Asamov that claimed ‘Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent’. If he had bothered to develop this thesis further, he would have discovered that the first refuge is Rottingham City Council. It’s a culture that not only encourages incompetence, but also rewards it. For example, there’s a chap in the next door office who has been working for the council for most of his adult life, eventually reaching the higher echelons of service manager. He was made redundant in a previous ‘reorganisation’ and was placed on the Council redeployment register. This is a wonderful device whereby an employee who is axed is placed in a different role when it becomes available. The great thing is, this drop in status isn’t accompanied by any drop in wages. Hence this guy is now getting paid £40,000 a year for a job that should technically pay around £20,000. Whenever I walk in he is sitting contentedly at his computer playing hearts. It’s a pleasing sight that leaves me with the hope that there is a gravy train at the end of it all.

Sitting at my desk in this poorly ventilated building, I cast my eyes fervently around searching for sources of blame. Should we accuse our impotent senior manager, who sits at his desk fiddling with himself while Rome burns around him?. Sun-Tzu, writing in 500 B.C said that the principle elements of leadership were intelligence, humanity, courage, credibility and discipline. Now leadership seems to be based on shifting blame, passing your work off onto other people and writing dull memos to your colleagues as a means of camouflaging your inactivity.

Should we blame the staff of our regional partners, a group of people whose collective I.T literacy is roughly equivalent to that of a pack of mentally retarded Neanderthals?. No doubt the cold, hard eye of the external audit will discover the real perpetrators, but by then they will probably have jumped ship into different jobs.

Rottingham suffers from the same problems as any large post-industrial city, a vast pool of unskilled labour with few qualifications, completely unsuited to fill the jobs that are on offer. The purpose of this project was to approach companies, discover what skills they required in their applicants, and to train our clients to this standard so they could reach employment. My office acts as a central hub for the organisation. We send out information about our courses, the clients read this material and go into the regional offices, the regional offices then send us the application forms and we then enter the clients on the courses. The trouble is, since this is a trial project, and this is public money we are dealing with, every action needs to be recorded accurately in a central database so that it can be rigorously audited later on. It was agreed that a central, online database be developed at vast expense. This database is known as Angry Fish.

I despise the name. It’s something only techie geeks with that kind of irritating ‘random’ style of humour, plundered shamelessly from Eddie Izzard, would find entertaining. We bought this system, at considerable expense, at the behest of our regional partners. The problem is, no one has been using it. Clients have come and gone, enrolled on courses, gained qualifications and entered employment, but virtually none of it has been documented, mainly because the staff of our local partners go into a blind panic the minite they encounter anything more complicated than Notepad. One can partly understand their concerns, the whole program is badly designed - for example, the 'delete record' button is about a pixel away from the 'open record' button.

As a result, our expensive new database is about as accurate a reflection of reality as Al Capone’s tax return. Those records that have been entered have often been duplicated several times or inputted with vital information missing. Of course, come the Audit, the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund are going to want to know what happened to all the money they gave us. God knows what our departmental management will do then; probably move everyone to different desks.

Various writers, pundits and social commentators are fond of telling us that modern society affected by some form of malaise, that standards are crumbling, manners are steadily becoming redundant and we are all descending into anarchy. Casting an eye over the history of the twentieth century, it seems clear that things have turned for the better rather than worse. Sure we seem to have less of the ‘manly’ Victorian values that made this country great, but at least no-one is dying of polio. One thing, however, troubles me immensely. At no point in human history have our inadequacies been rubbed in our faces quite so much. Flicking through the channels on my television set, I am treated to such depressing spectacles as ‘lifestyles of the rich and the famous’, and ’50 things you’ll be too skint to do before you die’. No wonder we seem to be suffering from some sort of collective status anxiety. We exist in a culture in which we are led to believe that we are all destined to live the lifestyle of the super rich. As always, it’s hard to harmonise ideological expectations with cold hard realities.

Watching documentaries about Paris Hilton makes you realise people turned up in their thousands to watch the French nobility being decapitated at the hands of the mob. One more special about the size of Puff Daddy’s new yacht and, come the next revolution, you’ll find me cheering on the steps of the guillotine as the odious new nobility of the modern age are dealt a dreadful, but deserved justice. That is assuming that I haven’t already been beheaded for having an absurdly posh name.

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