So Long and Thanks for all the Fish

34 years is a long time! When I first walked nervously into the London Borough of Barnet offices in Finchley Central Jim Callaghan was at number 10, Three Times a Lady was at number 1 and I was wondering why there were 7 people in the room waiting to interview a prospective Student Environmental Health Officer. it was the scariest interview I've had to this day somehow my cockney charm got me through and the rest as they say is history. Now usually at this point I'd be expected to realm into a Monty Pythonesque Four Yorkshiremen rant about how hard it was and young people today don't know they're born. But sorry to disappoint you as in those days I was taken on as a salaried student on the equivalent of £15,000pa today received a free three year education and was guaranteed a job for at mninimum two years as long as I qualified. Is that the sound of current EH students gnashing their teeth? If it was I wouldn't blame you today I would be forced to finance my own education to the tune of £27k over 3 years beg for a place at a Local Authority to get some on the job experience and then get a small salary if I was lucky. Who said things always get easier!

Of course now students are treated with a lot more respect than I got sitting inside "The Inspectors Office" on a wooden chair waiting to be taken out on a job. The day after I qualified I was thrown into inspecting 5 storey Houses in Multiple Occupation leading a team of Technical Officers consisting of 3 former builders and 1 ex fireman. Todays managers get sent on numerous courses to become managerial material a month trying to control that lot and I had all the qualifications I needed. To be fair my first boss gave me the pep talk I've used until the end "Do your job, keep your nose clean, and I'll swear black is white on your behalf as long as I don't catch you in a compromising situation with the Mayors daughter." To this day I have no idea whether the Mayor at the time had a daughter although I did find myself for a few weeks afterwards nervously asking girls I met at parties "and what does your Dad do?."

From those days to now and leaving Local Government is a sad occasion not because I don't want to  go but because of how much its changed. Going into Public Service to me was never about money (which was a good job) but about making a small difference to peoples lives and at least being able to look back having achieved something. As time has progressed though the number one question in Local Government has changed from "How can we solve the problem?." to "How much does it cost?" we have people talking about "protecting the brand." as if we're selling soap powder and workers that apparently are banned from having any aspirations of a nice life because we are paid by the public. The real answer to that is isn't everybody? What does the money you spend on food, cars, computers etc go towards but paying the employees of the companies concerned? and I bet they still have tea and buscuits at meetings. When confronted with the usual I pay your wages comment a colleague of mine once produced a 20p piece from his pocket and then explained a complicated trail of finance involving education, fire, the police and others ended with "and so thats about what you've contributed so here it is back." I don't think there's any getting away from the fact that Public Servants will always be undervalued there is no  excuse for failing to treat us with a little respect and dignity though.

For me as Churchill said "its not the begining of the end its the end of the begining." I fear the same is not true for the colleagues I'm leaving behind.  

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