Thursday 24 February 2011

More Of Dick's Adventures With Circumlocution

To make good the 'next up' promise I made yesterday, here is another chapter of the ongoing daily saga commonly known as dealing with the government or its various offices. I'll try to be brief.

We require a legal document so rang the relevant court to enquire how to get hold of it. As expected, a form was to be filled in and a fee applied, nothing surprising there, it's standard fare.

Was the form available online? Nope, so a journey to the court was necessary. Having passed through the now ubiquitous security x-ray, I was directed to a glass window with a view into an office containing eight desks, two of which were occupied by women who - sorry if it sounds rude - reminded me of Vogons. There was no buzzer or bell to alert them of my presence and, being the polite sort, I waited until someone noticed me (forcing a cough occasionally and moving around a bit). As my wait approached five minutes irritation was building but as I was about to call out, one of the Vogons - without diverting her gaze from her monitor - spoke ... in a dull monotone.

"Julie, there's someone at the window", at which a younger girl finally appeared from the left and greeted me. It was clear that the one who pointed out my presence had been aware of me since I arrived but, perhaps because this Julie was out of the office, had not said anything since 'the window' wasn't her job (this is borne out later).

No "someone will be with you in a minute, sir", or any other polite acknowledgement of my being there, and/or reassurance that I would not be kept waiting too long. Just silence until 'window Julie' turned up.

After a brief pause while my mind struggled to comprehend such poor manners, I explained what I wanted and was given the form to fill in. Having done so, I paid the fee and asked how long it would take. Now, don't laugh, but I truly thought she would say that I could wait while they retrieved it. In hindsight, I feel very foolish for believing - in this age of technological advancement - that such a turnaround is achievable by a state agency.

"We don't keep the records here, so we will have to get them from our archive [30 miles away]", stated Julie.
"How long will that take?", I enquired "Because if possible we'd like to receive it quickly, we're prepared to pay for a fast-track service or something". Again, silly me for imagining such a concept existed.
"Well, we have to fax the form over; then they do a search and fax it back to us; and when we receive it, we'll draw up a replica and send it to you in the post. It should be with you by the middle of next week".

This was a Thursday, so we were talking almost a week. I optimistically asked if she could get it done quicker and she promised to mark it 'urgent'. Could they e-mail it to speed things up a bit? Of course not.

Fast forward to the following Friday and nothing had arrived, so I rang to ask how it was progressing.

"I'm sorry, sir, there is no-one in that department today, they're all off. You'll have to ring back on Monday". Yes, seriously. The whole section felt it was perfectly OK to take a Friday off and leave no cover whatsoever. On Monday I rang again, only to be told - by someone who sounded suspiciously like the first Vogon - that "the person dealing with that" was at lunch and I'd have to ring back in 45 minutes (not my job syndrome again). I waited an hour then had another go.

What sounded like the same Julie then went to check on the progress. She picked up the phone again and dourly announced, "I'm afraid we haven't received anything back from the archive office yet", meaning that after 11 days, all her office had done was ... send one fax.

I reiterated that it was required as soon as possible so could she give them a nudge, but the only comfort offered was that "I could re-fax it, if you like".

By now, irritation had peaked and my curiosity had poked its nose in, intrigued to ascertain the extent of 'couldn't-give-a-toss' I was dealing with here. As such, I requested that, yes, could she 're-fax' it and ask the assiduous bunnies at the archive office - again - to treat it as urgent, if possible.

That was on Monday, and having still received no document or phone call in relation to it, I contacted them again today only to receive the same unconcerned reply - that they had still received nothing back. That's when I do believe I detected the tiniest hints of embarrassment as she promised to ring them and hustle it along.

Now, this isn't a busy facility as far as I could see. On the day of my trip to the court, I was the only visitor for the twenty minutes it took. Yet here we are, two weeks later, still no nearer finding out when we'll receive what we have paid for, through a system they have devised specifically for the purpose of those who wish to obtain such things. The whole project is now set up and ready to go except for this one document.

Poor manners, no communication, apparently no system to flag up when a request is running late, no sense of urgency if they have missed their promised delivery time. And this in an environment where public sector workers are supposed to be fearing for their jobs ... I'd hate to see what their customer service was like in the good times.

Worst of all, though, is the fact that this information is held on computer systems paid for by our taxes, yet they can't deliver anything electronically, and the system is so laboured that, in this case, it takes more than 14 days to produce a one page document.

There was, however, a notice board on their wall full of shiny leaflets jostling for position to proudly detail their service policies and achievements in meeting targets. I think that whoever produces those professionally printed notices should be put behind 'the window', or sent to the archive office, as they seem to be doing their job extremely well if they can sell that guff to the poor saps who have to use the service.

And don't get me started on the high-ranking official, at the council to which our business pays rates, I spoke to at length today. He must think that lateral thinking and common sense are branches of mathematics! Maybe I'll tell you about that soon too, if I haven't lost the will to live by then.

If you're curious as to the title, see here


Anonymous said...

Ha! Dick, it's called the brick wall of bureauracracy. Been there, done that. It really makes you wonder how anything gets done, doesn't it! These are the jobsworths who, we are told, are the backbone of our civilization. And, to add insult to injury, we are required under threat to pay for this "service".

Good luck mate. You're going to need it.

OpenID said...

You have my sympathies, DP. I also have my sympathies, as does each and every taxpayer in this sad land, as we are paying for this useless lot.

Your experience, and that of countless others, illustrates the bare fact that the public sector cannot remotely compare to the private: perverse priorities, no initiative, no sense of urgency, no need to perform as no individual will ever have to take the rap for institutional incompetence and the money to run the operation will never run out.

Every single avenue of the state is obscenely bloated, overmanned and overfunded. Money isn't the issue and never will be (something that the idiots railing against The Cuts fail to grasp): it's the entire backward, rotten culture.

P.S. Thank fuck that fire and the wheel were hit upon before the first bureaucrat crawled onto the scene, or we'd never have got anywhere.

Anonymous said...

You do realise Dick that they are not there to provide a service. You in fact were intruding and interrupting on their precious time. This is a common theme in all government and health service administration.

I have had a very frustrating time with a dentist receptionist recently who has a masters degree in rude but will have to go back to university and study real hard before she progresses from mong to utterly fucking thick. Further post grad education and you never know, she may even attain the qualification and bragging rights to call her self certified stupid.

Anonymous said...

Consulting once in one large Government unit, I saw they had a huge backlog of tasks many weeks old. Analysing it soon revealed that 90% of the tasks would take less than 10 minutes to complete, but the other 10% could take a few hours or even days.
They processed all work on a first-in, first-done basis, 'because that was fair'. The consequence was that every customer got equally abysmal (but fair !) service, and customer complaints and progress-chasing calls were taking up half of the staff time, making the problem worse.
I recommended the obvious, that they split the team into two - 'fast-track' and 'complex' - that way, they could deliver a brilliant, same-day service to 90% of customers, and the other 10% would understand that their job was more complex and accept any reasonable delay. The manager could then tweak the numbers of staff in each team to reflect the current workload split.
Simples !
But would they do it ? Nope, because it wasn't as 'fair' as the previous method.
Stuff the service, stuff the customer, just stick to the old communist agenda and that's fine.
I quit in disgust, sacrificing vast amounts of billable time, but they didn't deserve me.

Mark Wadsworth said...

The court service are particularly bad with this sort of behaviour.

Other departments (HMLR and Companies House) are surprisingly efficient.

I'm not sure that it's just a public sector thing though, RBS/Natwest are similarly arrogant, slow and useless since long before they were nationalised.

Cazzy Jones said...

I am reminded, thanks to the comment about the dental receptionist, of a story told by either Max Pemberton or James Le Fanu in the Telegraph's medical column about how he once went in search of a nurse to deal with a patient problem that was borderline emergency. He found one at the nurses' station and explained the problem. Response: "I'm on my break." He tried again, stressing the urgency. Response: "I'm. On. My. Break." You couldn't make it up. Does anyone train these behind-the-window and behind-the-station merchants in unashamed bolshiness or is it sussed out on interview as a special personal skill?

Mongo said...

Your far too polite Mr P, when dealing with bureaucracy I find coming across as a psycotic window licker makes things happen quicker, especially if they call security to "monitor" the situation.

Some tips.

Whisper to an invisible person stood next to you then speak loudly to bureaucrat

Hum to self.

Stand too close to bureaucrat, if they ask you to stand back job done.

If possible invade office space.

Laugh at random intervals.

Mentally wander off for a few seconds before coming back into the room and ask for them to repeat what they just said.

Randomly speaking in tongues is an excellent ploy.

When you get back to your car immediately ring the same office and triple check everything,

The logic of this approach is they will not want you to come back or keep getting in touch.

Hope those tips help ;)

Bureaucracy is a bitch of a word to spell eh!,well it would be wouldn`t it.

Little Black Sambo said...

I expect there were some prominent posters explaining that the management take very seriously any rudeness to their staff.

McRantin said...

A wee story for your amusement;

My wife works in admin for the police. She's having some problems with her leg at the moment as has visited a physio who asked about her work condition. My wife admitted that the seat she worked at made it impossible to get comfortable. The physio suggested speaking to her supervisor to see what could be done.

Her supervisor put her in touch with "Geff" the station health and safety officer who came and paid my wife a visit later in the day (so far so good). She complained to him about her chair and explained wasn't sure how to adjust it and could he help. He said, "Yes of course, what you have to do is fill out this form on the intranet detailing the problem and we can take it from there."
At which point he went away and left my wife to fill in the digital form which apparently took over an hour as it's a fairly in-depth workstation analysis.
Anyway, she fill it in and it goes to the Health and Safety department (in this case - Geff) who came back and then adjusted her bloody seat. A 2 minute job he could have done first time round without insisting someone spend a bloody hour filling in a form!

Dick the Prick said...

Maybe instead of producing glossy pamphlets they could stand up against the wall for just a brief moment.

Anonymous said...

I think you are missing their point of reason for how they behave. By performing as they are performing and tying everything up in pretzel knots with no eventual outcome to suit the taxpayer's final needs and only that of the bureaucracy, then they will have manufactured the perfect excuses necessary to demand the creation of new slots and hiring of additional employees, so the staff can multiply geometrically and increase from eight to sixteen, a few years hence to thirty-two, and so on, in endless progression - until the tax money runs out or becomes worthless thanks to government waste and inefficiency. It's how the Soviet system finally burned itself out in East Germany and will be the same way the EU, UK and US's Nu-Soviet system burns out one day. But until that day of reckoning ever comes, then the master-minded willingly believed lie that this is all necessary and for everyone's good will continue unabated and the majority tipping point will continue to willfully believe in it, lacking courage to call the emperor naked for fear of ridicule and ostracization, the premiere tool of the lunatics and bullies who have taken over the asylum.

JuliaM said...

"And this in an environment where public sector workers are supposed to be fearing for their jobs..."

Clearly, they aren't at all worried. Perhaps because they know they are unsackable?

And because they know that the Treasury hasn't got the money to pay them off, so their departments will end up shuffling them around various 'surplus' pools for a long time.

JuliaM said...

"I expect there were some prominent posters explaining that the management take very seriously any rudeness to their staff."

The more there are of those scattered around, the worse the service you may eventually get, if you are lucky..

Dick Puddlecote said...

Mongo: I'm sure your suggestions work, I'm not devious (or worthy) enough to employ them as you do, though. :)

Sambo: Indeed, pride of place.

Dick: If we managed to get them there, watch them urgently feel the need to run around frantically all of a sudden. ;)

Sam Duncan said...

It's hard to get a good rant up about this, because it's what you expect, isn't it? Is anyone surprised by your story? I doubt it.

And they expect us to be sympathetic about the “savage cuts” they claim to be facing. My attitude is “fuck 'em”. After all, it's always been theirs.

“I have had a very frustrating time with a dentist receptionist recently who has a masters degree in rude but will have to go back to university and study real hard before she progresses from mong to utterly fucking thick.”

I say this every time dentists come up (and sorry for more-or-less hijacking the thread here, Dick) but I went private years ago. I'm not a wealthy man by any means - against my principles, I've often had to get by on benefits - and whenever I tell people I get a shocked reaction, along the lines of you're-on-a-low-income-surely-you-qualify-for-the-NHS-a-bloke-like-you-shouldn't-be-paying-for-that-kind-of-thing.

I don't want the fucking NHS. The NHS wouldn't phone the day before my appointments to remind me. The NHS wouldn't greet me by name at the door with a polite smile and leave me waiting less than ten minutes. The NHS wouldn't fit me in at short notice the day after a filling if I got a few worrying twinges.

So what extortionate fee did my cigar-chomping, top-hatted dental robber baron charge for those three consultations, with a couple of X-rays and a minor operation thrown in, that made the National Elf look like the Soviet Union circa 1979 cost me?


Yet people with Sky Sports subs, Premier League season tickets, iPhones, and 50" tellies will queue for hours for “free” dental “care” that's costing us all a fortune, and raise hell if there's any suggestion of even the mildest privatisation. I say they deserve the bloody toothache.

Sam Duncan said...

Oops. Sentence there doesn't sense a lot of make. Edited the beginning and forgot to chop off the end.