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ATPM 15.03
March 2009


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by Mark Tennent,

Mötley Crüe

The British workplace is apparently split into two camps: one where modern communication methods such as e-mail, video conferencing, and the like enable fast, collaborative work across the globe. The other is where little has changed since the turn of the century. That is, between 1899 and 1900, not the more recent one. It is this camp where local government seem to be firmly entrenched.

Just a few minutes ago, we needed some information from Summer, our incredibly efficient employment agent in London. She replied to our e-mail within 20 seconds, query answered, problem solved. We can get on with work knowing everything is underway in the background. But this is the exception.

Recently, we have had a lot of contact with local authorities at borough, city, and county levels. Almost without exception, contact has had to be via telephone message, days waited for a reply, and more messages, before getting answers to simple questions. Or, with the more switched-on employees, e-mails sent and messages returned saying they are out of the office for the next ten days, accompanied by promises to reply on their return.

All very well except the dates in the auto-reply are for last month. Presumably the recipient has returned from holiday/sick leave, neglected to turn off the auto-answer in their e-mail package, and put the lack of correspondence down to the recession. On the subject of sick leave, why do so many delicate people work in local government and need to have days off sick? We know one authority where staff even get an allotted number of days to be off sick, and naturally they take them, ill or not.

Papering Over Cracks

The paperless office is still a long way off and many, us included, use paper backups for important documents such as invoices and receipts. We will be forced to make electronic value-added tax returns in the near future, making one less form to complete. The last time we investigated, HM Customs and Excise required us to register for electronic filing by getting confirmation of who we are from the Chamber of Commerce or some such nonsense. At least it appears this is no longer the case.

However, local government is still wedded to pieces of paper for just about everything. Complete the wrong form and watch it disappear into limbo, waiting for you to ask where your request has disappeared to. Even forms completed online are no guarantee of success. Spend some time compiling the information the form needs and click on Send, only to get an error message. Worse still, the form requires Internet Explorer, yet doesn’t say so. Instead, some of the fields don’t appear in non-Microsoft browsers. That is assuming the council’s Web site doesn’t also require Internet Explorer to run properly.

David Cameron’s mötley crüe want to pass over even more of government to local authorities; best not mention the mess the NHS makes with computerisation. It’s all too depressing, and we haven’t got the time to get treatment, nor the money to pay for it. Unless we work in banking or for the local authority.

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