Tuesday, 9 December 2008

The cruelty of non-jobs

Over recent months much has been written about "non-jobs". Positions like Street Football Coordinator (paid by the taxpayer to organise impromptu kick-abouts into a more formal structure), Five-a-Day Adviser (paid by the taxpayer to guess how much fruit and veg people eat and suggest ways to force them to eat more), Climate Change Response Manager (paid by the taxpayer to suppress rational debate) and thousands more. Many are in the employ of local authorities who have felt compelled to engage them to meet some central government target or another.

Non-jobs are a fine way to reduce the unemployment figures and the tasks they carry out are, no doubt, thought to be of value by some people (usually a lobbying group paid by central government or the EU). I could bleat on about the cost. Just a thousand such jobs (a tiny fraction of the number in existence) at an average total remuneration of £20,000 each costs a massive £20million a year. Every year. I'm not going to go into the total cost, I don't know enough about it to do so and the figures are available from such luminaries as Mr Tyler.

When poor Gordon convinced himself and others that he had invented the money tree it wasn't a problem. He reached up to the ripe fruit, each one bearing the slogan "a billion quid", picked a few, peeled them and said "yummy". Now that the country is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy it is a rather different matter. Sensible budgeting demands that these unnecessary fripperies are abandoned as we enter a decade of thin gruel. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of these positions must be abolished if there is to be any hope at all of balancing the books by the end of 2018. And that gives rise to the point I want to make.

It really is very cruel and shortsighted to entice people into work when the cost of employing them is so much greater than the value of any benefit they could bring. Say you are a Street Football Coordinator employed by Bogshire County Council at a salary of £17,500 plus pension. Previously you were working as an assistant at the municipal sports centre on £14,000 but you have ambition and are keen to get more children playing football and enjoying competition so you put yourself forward. Your old job is then given to someone else and your new career starts. You are told your work is important and that you are a pioneer, you are told the future holds bright things with the possibility of promotion, higher remuneration and an even larger pension. But it is all guff. It's not your fault, in all good faith you took an opportunity to further yourself. After a couple of years in the post and with help from your parents you buy your first small flat. The future looks rosy but you have been misled. You read in the newspapers that others doing your work are being laid-off. How can that be? You were told it was vital work for the future and you planned your future around the rock solid security of working for a local authority. You find yourself made redundant with a small cheque to pay into the bank, a large mortgage and a flat falling in value. Funding for the sports centre is being squeezed so there are no openings there and you are now overqualified to go back to your old job anyway. And all because someone with more money in his budget than sense in his head decided Bogshire needed a Street Football Coordinator.

Of course neither central nor local government is yet making overt noises about such positions being dispensed with, they are saving that until after the next election. But dispensed with they will have to be because, frankly, they are a waste of money and now there is no money to waste. The position of people employed in these jobs is similar to that of those taken on by nationalised industries in the 1960s and 1970s. Those industries were loss making machines and the time would inevitably come when they had to be slimmed down or closed completely, yet people were given work in the hope and expectation that affording the unaffordable would go on forever.

Non-jobs create false hope in real people. Real people undertake financial commitments and plan their lives on the assumption their jobs will be safe. Many, like the sporty fellow in my example, leave other stable jobs to take the new positions. They do not do so out of greed or because they are trying to use the system for their own benefit. They do so because they believe the guff they are told.

Every sensible small businessman and woman knows what a very big thing it is to employ someone. They know that they must choose he right person for the job in order to get the maximum benefit for their business and they know that the person they choose will become reliant on them and will plan their future according to what that business can offer them. No doubt there are some hire 'em and fire 'em employers who simply don't care, although I have to say I've never met one. I have met plenty of businesspeople who hate having to let a loyal employee go and go to great lengths to avoid doing so, often at significant personal expense to themselves. No one is taken on at a substantial salary unless the job they are engaged to undertake is real and has real value. Still less is anyone taken on to massage the unemployment statistics. Yet that is exactly what has been happening over and over again in the public sector for the last nine years or more.

It is bad enough that it wastes taxpayers' money, it is simply cruel that it gives false hope to people acting in good faith.


Mark Wadsworth said...

To soften tbe blow to thse poor saps, the MW manifesto envisages giving them roughly a year's salary in lieu of notice and for waiving accrued pension rights.

Pogo said...

To apply a bit of hard-hearted cynicism to your, rather surprising, compassionate "opining" (sounded better than "opinion")...

I guess you may be right in a certain percentage of cases, but from personal experience after living under a council who's edicts were handed-down from from a Town Hall known locally as "The Kremlin"... Many of these sort of jobs were subject to a greater level of crony- or nepotism than the worst merchant bank. The ordinary punter had as much chance of getting one of these plum non-jobs as I have of getting a modelling contract with Calvin Klein.

Anonymous said...

Some do pogo but not all,and you can bet the cronies will be looked after jobwise by their mates.I,like most others,all to readily sneer at nonjobs,may just stop and think before gloating next time.Thanks TFO.
Im glad i was born when i was and not now

Simon Fawthrop said...

An excellent explanation of the pain that a lot of people went through in the late 70's and early 80's, however I'm not sure that it will happen this time, or at least not in the foreseeable future.

It is unlikely that Labour will start the process of culling these non-jobs (for want of a better phrase) and on current form I can't to see Cameron having the fortitude, clarity of vision and leadership skills to see it through should they win the next election.

Sadly it will be a lot worse when the inevitable is forced on us by foreign investors refusing to buy Government debt and the Chancellor, Labour or Tory, turning to the IMF in 2011/2012.

TheFatBigot said...

Interesting points, all.

I wonder whether the IMF is as long away as 2011? Perhaps it will take until then for it to raise enough to bail us out.

Mark Wadsworth said...

This whole IMF thing is a joke. It is funded by gummints around the world who are all in the same mess. Everybody can't bail everybody else out.