'A catastrophe for the British economy': JOHN CAUDWELL condemns WFH

‘A catastrophe for the British economy’: Phones 4u founder JOHN CAUDWELL condemns WFH culture as an ‘epidemic of inefficiency sweeping the country’ as he demands civil servants get back to their desks

Up and down the country, large parts of life are not functioning as they should, causing enormous frustration as we carry out our daily tasks.

From delays of as much of three months for renewing a passport or driving licence to finding it impossible to speak to a human to pay a bill or make a complaint, the pandemic has left a trail of destruction that Britain is still reeling from.

And I’m sorry to say, this situation seems to suits some people rather well.

Part of the problem is the continuing trend for working from home, which some see as an absolute windfall that allows them to walk the dog, have a long lunch, look after the children and still collect full pay.

But there is something else, too: a growing sense of entitlement on the part of workers who believe that jobs exist for their own convenience rather than to serve customers or the public.

But there is something else, too: a growing sense of entitlement on the part of workers who believe that jobs exist for their own convenience rather than to serve customers or the public. File image 

And it is the civil service who particularly benefit from this privilege of convenience.

Whitehall workers enjoy job security and generous pensions – and all for hours that allow them to clock off at five o’clock.

But while customers can hold private companies to account for sloppy service by simply going elsewhere, they have no such option for the Government departments that run essential parts of their daily lives.

Worse, their taxes pay the wages of our enormous public sector workforce, leading to a growing sense of resentment when they are put on hold for the umpteenth time – or simply don’t get put through to a human on the phone at all.

The sheer scale of the epidemic of inefficiency sweeping the country means Boris Johnson’s plans to tackle the overstaffed public sector by taking a knife to more than 90,000 civil service jobs in line with pre-pandemic levels is hugely welcome.

Faced with the current situation, where public sector jobs provide such a comfortable set-up, private businesses are struggling to hire staff.

I’ve experienced the same hurdle running my own businesses, too. Any time an employee has left my company for the public sector over the last 30 years, they hardly look back. The rewards and lifestyle on offer on the Government payroll are just too enticing.

Yet the service they deliver currently just doesn’t match.

Too many times, customers calling with a query are pushed onto online forms or, worse, instant messaging services run by automated chatbots.

Instead of civil service staff being spread out remotely at home, they need to be based centrally in an office where there are people ready to answer the phone to handle queries promptly.

In short, we need to provide the hard-pressed public with an efficient service that doesn’t cost them a penny more than they should be paying.

We’ve been here before, of course.

Looking back to the early days of my career, I used to be aggravated by the whole of Britain’s public services before Margaret Thatcher took charge.

Having worked myself to the point of ill-health as I built my business empire, I wouldn’t advise anyone to put in the hours I used to, no matter how ambitious they are. File image 

Once in Number 10, she made it clear to the public service sector that they were there to deliver a friendly, polite and effective service.

She gave them targets and she transformed Britain into a culture where people who almost thought they were there to be objectionable to the public were suddenly reminded they were there to do a good job for them.

That’s what we all need to bear in mind – that civil servants need to strive to be the best that they can to give the rest of Britain a great service.

Having worked myself to the point of ill-health as I built my business empire, I wouldn’t advise anyone to put in the hours I used to, no matter how ambitious they are.

But I do advocate that people should do a conscientious strong day’s work, and they shouldn’t be looking at the clock and dashing off at five o’clock.

Reducing the number of civil servants is a good start to boosting productivity, because it creates an element of competition.

Perhaps some civil servants could get jobs in the private sector, and then everybody wins because the private sector needs more employees and can’t find them.

Such a rebalancing would be healthy for the whole economy.

After all, Britain is a business – and it should be run like one.

I’m not against certain people working from home, but I’m against the overall culture that says everybody works from home.

Some people are extremely diligent and can trusted. I’ve got some of my staff working from home now, which I wouldn’t have done years ago.

I’m not against certain people working from home, but I’m against the overall culture that says everybody works from home. File image

I trust them and believe in them, and the office doesn’t lose anything by them not being there.

Unfortunately, others are not conscientious in the least and will take everything they can get.

Perhaps we in Britain have got too comfortable.

But the cut and thrust of modern businesses, we all need to justify our living and our wages, and we need to put the effort in to do that.

Especially public sector workers, who are in a privileged position.

Now they need to perform and realise how well they are paid compared to lots of private businesses.

The civil service must not be overweight with costs that we, the public, have got to pay for.

And we need to get those people back to work to make sure it runs as it should.

We need a buoyant office culture because that’s where people learn from more experienced people; they’re soaking up knowledge and information.

There’s a huge amount of learning that takes place in the workshop by swapping ideas with peers, listening to the way problems are handled and observing body language at face to face meetings.

You simply can’t replicate that at home or worse, over Zoom, at all.

Those that can show their boss they can be trusted to work from home should be allowed to, because it’s commercial common sense.

But if there’s going to be any deterioration in efficiency and customer service, it should be prevented.

If everybody worked from home, it would be a catastrophe for the British economy.

The fee for this article has been donated to the Caudwell Children charity. 

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