Over the last few months there has been understandable outrage at comments by Peter Wilkinson, a senior Civil Servant in the Department for Transport as he set out to challenge rail workers at the beginning of 2016 at a public meeting in Croydon “Over the next three years we’re going to be having punch ups and we will see industrial action and I want your support,” And then speaking about some of the outdated practices in the industry he had the temerity to suggest that the rail system in the UK belonged to him personally “I’m furious about it and it has got to change – we have got to break them…They have all borrowed money to buy cars and got credit cards. They can’t afford to spend too long on strike and I will push them into that place. They will have to decide if they want to give a good service or get the hell out of my industry.” His antagonism towards the workers in Southern Rail cannot be erased from history and so he and the Government that has retained his services despite such words, must accept that they are partly to blame for the strikes on the rail network and intransigence of the unions in a dispute that is hurting millions of people and many businesses and needs to be resolved now.
It would be easy to assume that Wilkinson is an isolated case, made easier by the fact that he comes from a private sector background, unlike many of those around him in the huge industry that is Whitehall. However in the last few days another civil servant, this time one who has worked as a civil servant since 1998 has been heard challenging workers in a different part of the public sector. As a minor footnote when Pete Wilkinsons words first emerged I checked him out on LinkedIn and then made some comments on the basis of that posting. Within a week or so he had removed his listing on the LinkedIn portal. I wonder if the same will happen with the listing for Jonathan Slater who has worked in many Government Departments but in April moved into the Department for Education as the senior civil servant. Jonathan is not entirely new to education services. Apart from his degrees in York and then Sussex the first job he has listed on LinkedIn is Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Education at Islington Council from 1998 – 2001 when he was in his late 30’s so he may have other experience of value.
The words from Jonathan Slater are sourced via an article on the Schools Week website and he apparently stated “if the bottom 75 per cent of schools became as efficient as the most cost-effective 25 per cent of schools then the flat education budget of the next few years wouldn’t be a problem.” It is easy for civil servants to distance themselves from the reality faced by people working on the ground and make such claims. It is far more difficult to improve the efficiency of organisations, whether they be Government structures or Schools. Because I cannot find the source for this comment it is difficult to know if Jonathan was challenged at the time. However I regularly visit Schools in my work and I can assure him that not all Schools are fortunate enough to have up to date or well maintained buildings. Because Sussex has a strong rural dimension, it is clear that however one measures school efficiency, that not all Schools can compete with their peers on a level playing field (assuming that they have a playing field in the first place). The probability is that Jonathan Slater is earning in excess of £170,000 based on the last listing for the department before he took over. No doubt he is very gifted, but there are many senior people in the DfE who at the time were earning £85,000 and indeed many others who earn sums more consistent with the income of the rest of society. How well has Mr Slater assessed the efficiency of his own department? Indeed bearing in mind that Pete Wilkinson is paid around £100,000 more than Mr Slater, how does the efficiency of Whitehall measure up? I realise that picking on matters such as individual pay rates does not get to the heart of efficiency, but as we are referring to budgets, there is certainly a link. I would like to see a bit more understanding from both Slater and Wilkinson and a bit less grandstanding, but then I guess my opinions don’t really matter to either of them!