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‘Front-line’ needs ‘back-office’

Written By: - Date published: 8:50 am, March 19th, 2010 - 9 comments
Categories: public services - Tags: , , , ,

With the Government wildly slashing its way through the support pillars of the public service, Geoff Robertson on Morning Report interviewed the PPTA’s Kate Gainsford and the Nurses’ Geoff Annals . Their message was clear: they are ‘front-line’ workers but they were opposing cuts to ‘back-office’ staff even though those cuts were supposedly going to fund more ‘front-line’ staff. As Annals put it:

“We get worried when we hear the idea that if a job has low visibility or is a so-called ‘back office’ job then it’s not important and it can be cut. That sound more like a rationale for mindless cost-cutting and the impact may matter a great deal.

Take for instance flying. I’ve flown very often but I’ve never seen many staff essential to the safety of my flights. I’ve never seen an air traffic controller for example. Does that mean that air traffic controllers should be dispensed with? The logic of removing ‘back-office’ bureaucracy would say ‘yes, let’s free up pilots from restrictive air traffic control procedures and let them be flexible and innovative in their approach’ but I have no doubt that if the people deciding such a plan actually talked to those flying the planes, the aircrew, they would decide against the cuts.

What nurses are concerned about is that no-one is actually talking to the front-line nurses, the aircrew of the health system, to make sure the cuts really will improve quality, safety, and administrative efficiency.”

National has promised to build us a grand facade for the public service by using material from the supports at the back. What the front-line workers are telling us is that the more the Nats take from the back, the greater the danger that everything comes crashing down. We saw the results of this last time the Nats were in power when the Ministry of Justice could barely organise the election in 1999.

And the truth is that National is cutting the ‘front-line’ too. There have been redundancies in PHOs, in Customs, among social workers, and call centre staff. National is under-cutting the public service’s ability to deliver to the public, even as a poll shows that the public wants better public services.

Every job cut reduces the capability of the public service to deliver for the people of New Zealand. That is the outcome, the intended outcome, of National’s policy. It’s the same old formula, short-term mindless cuts that set us up for trouble in the future.

9 comments on “‘Front-line’ needs ‘back-office’”

  1. Anne 1

    “What nurses are concerned about is that no-one is actually talking to the front-line nurses, the aircrew of the health system, to make sure the cuts really will improve quality, safety, and administrative efficiency.’

    In the late 1980s and 1990s the government service in which I was employed for many years made huge cuts to front line staff without any consultation with us. Less than two years after the last round of redundancies, we were being contacted one by one and asked if we would consider returning in some capacity or another. They had tossed out their experienced staff and ended up ‘all at sea’.

  2. MollyByGolly 2

    There’s two types of backroom staff – those that aid frontline staff and help them do their jobs better, and those that make it harder for frontline staff to do their jobs.

    I work “on the frontline”. Backroom staff that help me deal with public enquiries, photocopying, sorting out IT problems, etc. They are generally helpful in manner and work collegially to improve what we do and how we do it. Any suggested changes are practical and make a real difference. Cut them, and I have less time for my frontline activities.

    The backroom staff that make my job more difficult all work in “management” – they demand reports and data, which take time to compile, and every year change everything about how I do my job and report on my job. I’d be happy for some of them to go. But since it is management that decides where the cuts will be made, I doubt management will voluntarily step back. They don’t trust the frontline staff to do their jobs properly and view their control as vital to the viability of the organisation. So if anyone goes, it will be the helpful, useful, productive backroom staff.

  3. MollyByGolly 3

    Reminds me of the Dilbert cartoon a few days back:

    Programmer: We need more staff on the project

    Dogbert, the generic manager: Figure it out. Work harder not smarter. Make a plan. Move some things around. Adjust priorities. Just get it done. Give me a status report.

    Programmer: That did nothing but make me hate you.

    Dogbert: I can replace you with someone who will pretend to be inspired.

  4. Anne 4

    “The backroom staff that make my job more difficult all work in “management’ they demand reports and data, which take time to compile, and every year change everything about how I do my job and report on my job. I’d be happy for some of them to go. But since it is management that decides where the cuts will be made, I doubt management will voluntarily step back.”

    Does that strike a chord with me MollyByGolly 🙂

    The irony is… the management (by and large) would never cope with the front-line work anyway.

  5. Ianmac 5

    At our hospital nursing staff are now delivering the meals. Used to be done by Nurse Aids so I suppose those Nurse Aids were just back-room beauracrats and Nurses should feel good to be able to hand out meals right on the frontline, instead of doing dumb nursing stuff.

  6. MollyByGolly 6

    A lot of people in my management used to be frontline staff.

    I think things would improve if they were required to actually implement the stuff they ask us to implement – you know, do a 3 month stint on the frontline every 2 years or so.

  7. tc 7

    I’d be comfortable (relaxed even) if management were slashed as they pretty much create work to justify their existence but how likely is that with this mob as they’ll just demand the headcount reduced and to quote Tolley on RNZ…” That’s the administrators call, I’m the minister…”

    My rule of thumb is everyone separately gets asked what they do and based on answer you know who the ones who need to go will say things like ” assurance to process excellence” or ” strategy alignment” or ” enablement of the outcomes” these are the dead weights dragging it down as they don’t actually create/fix/manage anything just stand in it’s way adding zero.

  8. prism 8

    Sounds like a movie lot – great facades with raw timber at the back with an angled beam propping up each side and taking the weight. May those beams be good, stout and strong.

  9. hurhur 9

    You guys are prime examples of why public service administrators are being cut, idiocy.

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