Quentin Letts

The civil service’s exercise in navel-gazing

Are you happy in your work? In 37 years of journalism I don’t remember once being asked that question by my bosses. Nor did I expect to be. But in the civil service there is a bureaucratic machine to make sure employees are asked once a year if everything is all right, dearie. At unpublicised cost, the People Survey invites penpushers to complain. Guess what – they do.

Three mandarins explained this time-consuming exercise to the Commons public administration select committee. They were: Alex Chisholm, the civil service’s chief operating officer; Fiona Ryland, ‘government chief people officer’; Dr Claudia Roscini, head of the civil service People Survey team.

The survey covered 100 departments, 17,000 business units and 350,000 souls. It was ‘an extremely useful tool’. Tools need oiling, so a review was held. This was ‘a very substantial piece of work’ and took three months. The committee’s chairman, William Wragg (Con, Hazel Grove), suggested a rolling survey of the survey. Chisholm was one move ahead of him. Each survey already contained three evaluation mechanisms and there were consultations with survey managers in all departments. ‘Feedback and input from other stakeholders’ was sought. Benchmark comparisons were held with other public–sector leviathans, best practice shared. More admin. More meetings.

Our national debt is hideous yet hundreds of clerks are being paid to survey surveys and benchmark benchmarks. And not just in this country. Roscini’s survey team is part of an ‘engagement group’ at the OECD, the organisation for economic counterproductive doodling. Not all countries bother with an annual survey of bureaucrats. Denmark, Switzerland and others only do it once every few years. The maniacs.

Chisholm (Downside, Oxford and Insead), a murmuring beanpole with basso voice, dwelt creamily on this and other aspects of the People Survey.

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