Letters: The public is paying the price for the poor performance of civil servants

Jacob Rees Mogg has called for civil servants to return to the office Credit: Tom Nicholson/Reuters

SIR – Work may well not be “a place” in this day and age, but work remains work – and service remains service.

I am surely not alone in receiving poor service from government departments, one example being the failure of the Department for Work and Pensions to deliver a document to me within its own six-week timescale. Despite regular reminders, escalation to a priority team and an official complaint (which was ignored), my document took six months to arrive.

Whatever the cause of such poor service, it is surely the responsibility of senior civil servants to put it right rather than fight battles with their employer at the expense of the public.

Rod Barrett
Bromley, Kent

 

SIR – Your front page (May 12) had a report on Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi’s “crackdown” on truancy next to one on senior civil servants in open revolt against the Government’s injunctions to return to the office.

As a teacher with 34 years’ experience in comprehensive schools, including a decade as a headmaster, I can assure you that ample measures to tackle truancy have been in place for many years, with a proven record of success. Until lockdown.

It is obvious that pretty well anyone in the public sector can now ignore government threats. This seems to apply in every area, at every level: GPs, teachers, staff at local authorities and in hospitals. Lockdown has proved to be a Pandora’s box, unleashing pandemonium on our country.

David Kelly
Broseley, Shropshire

 

SIR – Helen Bessemer-Clark (Letters, May 11) is right that the Civil Service should not use Covid as an excuse for poor performance, but wrong to blame inefficiency on working from home.

With modern technology, every office function beyond scanning incoming post can take place at home.  If an employee working from home fails to perform, the fault lies with the employee’s manager.

If a department is still circulating paper internally or is staffed by people who cannot communicate properly without being in the same room, this shows there are serious issues with the calibre of those in senior posts.

Claims of a need for riffing, mentoring, corridor chatting or creative collaboration in an office are simply excuses used by the feckless who cannot face a day at home with nothing to do but work.

John Sheridan Smith
Southampton

 

SIR – I can top the experience of Helen Bessemer-Clark at the Office of the Public Guardian. When my call was finally answered after 58 minutes and I threatened to complain, I was told: “That will delay your application further as it will be put on hold while we deal with your complaint.”

You can never beat the system.

Elizabeth Fehnrich
London SW1

 

Germany’s priorities

SIR – As long as the EU draws oil and gas from Russia, the defeat of Ukraine will remain a possibility.

The German economy is not sacrosanct above all other concerns. A German recession cannot be compared to the daily suffering of Ukrainians and the consequences of Russia prevailing.

Every day, civilians, including children, are dying, and hospitals are being bombed. Military equipment being sent to Ukraine will eventually be depleted. The sooner Russian forces are beaten and the threat to Europe recedes, the sooner a new order can be established.

Roger Smith
Oxford

 

SIR – The pledge by Boris Johnson to send British troops to the Nordic states to ward off a Russian threat is welcome, but this is exactly what Nato should have done in Ukraine before Russia invaded.

Nato failed to provide the necessary trip wire and brinkmanship in Ukraine, which was exploited by Vladimir Putin, who saw this as a potential weakness and evidence of a lack of commitment from the Western alliance. Most countries in Nato are rightly now supporting Ukraine, but the current situation could well have been avoided with greater foresight and resolve.

Lt Col Jeremy Prescott (retd)
Southsea, Hampshire

 

NHS reform

SIR – Your report (April 15) about an 87-year-old lady who was left on a trolley for 31 hours is a sad reflection of the NHS in 2022.

In 2002, aided by friends at ITV, we drew attention to the state of the East Kent Hospitals trust, where some of my patients were confined to A&E, on beds and trolleys, for up to a week.

As I said at the time, this was not due to nursing or medical slackness. I had been protesting about the situation to our trust board chairman, managers and medical director for three months, without visible progress. But things were relieved by the Tonight programme’s secret filming, which led to a new ward within three months.

Since then, however, little has changed. Waiting times for admission for planned surgery are interminable for many patients, who may die of their condition or remain in pain until death. The pandemic hasn’t helped, but there are too many excuses.

The NHS needs large acute hospitals – so that doctors can work in large teams – in areas where an adequate labour force lives nearby, as low-ish pay makes long commutes too expensive for many workers. Smaller hospitals can then serve as a resource for the “walking wounded”, and sufferers of less serious illnesses, who need less acute care.

All of this will require investment.

Robert Heddle FRCS
Ickham, Kent

 

Sniffer scare

SIR – I am very careful about taking food on flights (Letters, May 12).

On one occasion I was politely called out of a long, snaking queue by a smiling airport policeman in New York who had noticed that we had our 15-month-old son with us.

The sniffer dog immediately sat down next to my hand luggage; I was told, to my horror and confusion, that this indicated the presence of drugs.

Or apples and pineapple slices for my son’s flight. It turned out that fresh fruit was another banned import. Huge relief and smiles all round.

Tony Parrack
London SW20

 

Importing coal

SIR – I recently returned from a holiday spent riding Britain’s narrow and standard gauge heritage railways.

One line was burning coal from Romania, which the crew described as rubbish. Another was using coal imported from Bolivia, while yet another was burning Polish coal with a mixture of ovoids. When I asked about Welsh coal, I was told the mine had closed and was unlikely to reopen.

If there is a demand for high-quality Welsh coal, why are we importing low-grade alternatives that do not burn so cleanly and cause more pollution?

Our Government boasts of the reduction of the national carbon footprint, but we seem to have achieved this by exporting it.

Stephen Rees-Jones
Dulverton, Somerset

 

Black cab contortions

SIR – The problem with black cabs (Letters, May 11) is that if you’re creaky, as I am, they are painful to get in and out of. First, a steep step up, which puts strain on the knees; handles in all the wrong places; a painful stretch to pay, bent double; and a precarious exit. It’s like going potholing.

Bolt and Uber drivers have more accessible cars, and are easier to talk to as there is no Perspex barrier. Many are kind, funny and helpful, and scrupulous about driving safely.

Virginia Ironside
London W12

 

SIR – A few years ago a friend and I were in central London. As I am not very good on my feet, we hailed a black cab.

On arrival at our destination, we tried to pay, but the driver refused, saying it would be bad form to take our money since we were his first ever fare. Lucky for him we had only travelled five miles and not 50.

Marie Blanchard
Newport, Monmouthshire

 

Majestic memories

SIR – In 1935, Canterbury City Council presented every child with a Silver Jubilee commemorative mug with King George V and Queen Mary on one side and the arms of the city on the other.

The coronation of George VI was even more exciting, as there was a huge fair just outside the city. As well as a mug, every child was given a book of 10 vouchers for free rides or games.

I hope the street parties for our Queen’s Platinum Jubilee create similar happy memories.

Alan J Burton
Shotley, Suffolk

 

Men: throw off your prejudice against pink

A boy in a pink sailor suit, by the French painter Jacques-Émile Blanche (1861-1942) Credit: Bridgeman

SIR – I’ve never understood why men have such an aversion to wearing pink clothes.

Since my early twenties, I’ve confidently worn various pink items. Nothing ostentatious – just normal shirts, polo shirts, jumpers, T-shirts, shorts and socks in various shades, from baby pink through to fuchsia and raspberry. Wearing these clothes doesn’t mean that I am a dandy, or somebody engaged in moral turpitude.

Pink can be subtle – so refuseniks should shed their inhibitions and embrace it.

Andrew Holgate
Wilmslow, Cheshire

 

It’s time to get real about the Irish border

SIR – Boris Johnson regards Brexit as “done”, though it clearly isn’t.

It is now almost six years since the referendum and Northern Ireland remains a sticking point. The DUP is citing the Northern Ireland Protocol as the reason for stalling power-sharing at Stormont. While this is more likely to be due to concerns about unification, the Protocol is nevertheless a major obstacle and progress will only be made once it is dealt with.

The problem is that, to all intents and purposes, there is no solution. The UK, including Northern Ireland, left the EU in accordance with peoples’ wishes (including the DUP’s), and this resulted in a trading border between Northern Ireland, which is now outside the EU, and the Republic of Ireland, which is still a member.

Anything that softens the border between the two will, by definition, result in a hardening of the border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. You can’t have it both ways: you are either in the EU or not. That was the choice we were given.

Attempting to fudge the matter in order to appease all concerned, including the EU, is unlikely to succeed. At some point reality will have to prevail.

Ron Stubberfield
Broadway, Worcestershire

 

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