From time to time, Sarah Cheverton is called upon by local authorities to do communications work, often when there’s a particularly hot potato that officers are flipping nervously amongst each other.
Occasionally, the nature of these complaints reveals a level of ignorance about the state of local government under the Coalition that I find a little ridiculous.
Well, I say ridiculous, I mean frustrating.
Well, I say frustrating, I mean irritating.
Well, I say irritating, I mean eliciting a psychopathic fury that makes me want to hunt these people down and paper cut them into submission with copies of the Morning Star while screeching, ‘Why don’t you watch the news, genius?’
To overcome this, I use the ‘two-draft’ method.
This is a simple but effective way of making sure that your anger doesn’t overcome the need for diplomacy in your communications.
It goes like this:
- First draft, tell the truth and get it out of your system.
- Second draft, lie your arse off and move on.
The following letter was in response to a resident of a town I’ll leave unnamed, who serially complains in quite general terms that the local authority isn’t good enough and that the Council could address this if only they would invest hundreds of millions of pounds in a scheme she thought of that very morning in the bath.
In case there’s any uncertainty, this was the first draft.
Dear Constructively Outraged Resident,
Thank you for your letter pointing out that the local authority just isn’t as good as it should be. We particularly appreciate your demand that we immediately invest a vast amount of money into ‘making things better’, though we noticed the manager of Adult Social Care services was quite annoyed when we told her we’d be using her budget.
In broad terms, we agree with you – because frankly, you’re right.
However, as it seems you haven’t tuned into the news in the last couple of years, you might want to sit down as we have a rather shocking revelation to share.
There’s no money left in local government.
Somehow, without you noticing, government has decided to sidestep the central issue of concentrating power and money in the hands of an ever-shrinking few (corporations) by taking even more power and money away from those who can afford it least (the people).
One of the ways they are doing this is by giving money to huge businesses to run services for them.
Now big business knows there’s no money in public services – they’re not silly! – so instead of investing in them, they take the public money on offer and spend it on caviar and champagne. Then they hand over the small change to charities to run public services as sub-contractors, usually on an impossibly low budget.
We call this ‘working in partnership’.
Now, you may not like these broad-based partnerships of voluntary, public and private sector – to be honest, neither do we. After all, most frontline council workers came into public service to serve the public, not to line the pockets of industry.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the government.
Not only are these partnerships being lined up essentially to run our towns and cities, but at some point soon, every element of local government will be contracted out to democratically unaccountable organisations or businesses.
Welcome to the Big Society.
Don’t like it? Didn’t vote for it?
Neither did anyone else.
So, and I’m going to be frank here, your complaint is, quite honestly, the last thing on our minds.
Most of us are currently really busy looking down the back of the sofa for loose change so that we can keep delivering the unsexy services even Big Business isn’t interested in: for old people, children in care, victims and survivors of violence, the sick, or the poor.
I’m glad you’ve got so much time and energy to correspond with us, but given the current state of Going Nowhere City Council, you might want to use some of that time to consider volunteering. There are currently a huge number of exciting opportunities popping up all over the city where paid employment used to be.
Please do keep writing to share your thoughts. We value your feedback – even though it is sometimes discouraging to hear our own private and unspeakable thoughts about the slow, agonising death of the public sector angrily screamed at us on paper by the very people we claim to serve.
However, please also be aware that your next letter is likely to be answered by someone else as my post has been deleted while I was writing this. Apparently, all local frontline helpdesk officers are being replaced by a new, improved and dynamic customer service team based in Delhi.
A council office near you.
Photography copyright Richard Williams