I have written before on this blog, about the occasional bureaucracy and incompetence which can be found among certain sections of the public services in this borough. With a national debt higher than at any time in our history, and a government on a mission to reduce it as quickly as possible, one could almost be forgiven for thinking that soon, there would be a realisation things would have to change. It should almost beg the question, how can we improve the actual services we provide? Or put another way, how can we avoid the dole queue for at least another year?
In the past ten days or so, I have been reminded about the dangers of such thinking by two seemingly unrelated incidents; one which made the front page of the local rag, the other, concerning the retail arm of the Royal Mail, better known as The Post Office. The September 30th edition of the Walsall Chronicle, featured on its front page a story of how residents who had been dutifully sweeping up fallen leaves from the street and putting them in the brown garden waste bins provided by Walsall Council, have now been told by binmen in certain parts of the borough, that such action is “against council rules”. One unfortunate pensioner has already been given a ticking off by refuse collectors for breaching said council policy, a policy which even the council leader thinks is taking things to the extreme. (Doubtless these are the same refuse collectors, who when working on a bank holiday Monday – usually at an enhanced rate – seem able to get the job done in half the time it normally takes them to do it every other Monday). Apparently, persistent offenders including those who continually put the wrong material into bins, can be fined up to £1,000. According to the Walsall Street Pride documents, the reason given for this state of affairs is that leaves swept up from the street are not classed as garden waste, and should not therefore be mixed with general green waste because of – wait for it – possible CONTAMINATION! Surely this was checked out beforehand by someone with an appropriate environmental science qualification, before letting the refuse collectors loose among an unsuspecting public, zealot-like in their interpretation of the latest council rules? Thankfully, some common sense seems to have finally prevailed among local councillors, which is more than can be said for the employees at my local Post Office.
On Monday 04th October, I went to my local branch in Brownhills High Street to post an anniversary card to some friends who now live in South-East France. Since Royal Mail now insist that a European stamp be used on all European destined mail items, I had to queue up to purchase said stamp from the counter at the exorbitant price of 89p. However, it wasn’t this that caused my sense of outrage bad enough though it was, no, what annoyed not only myself and the other dozen or so people patiently waiting in the queue, was the fact that at the time – around 2pm -there were only two counter positions open, while a third member of staff was in the background checking paperwork and other admin duties which didn’t appear that urgent. Even if they were, what happened next almost defied belief. Once this person was finished rummaging around paper and envelopes etc, she then proceeded to collect up the cups of her colleagues and make the afternoon tea, while the rest of us fumed patiently in the slow- moving queue. Having finally got served around eight minutes after two I left to do some other errands, but out of curiosity walked back past the Post Office around two-twenty to find lo and behold – another dozen or so people in the queue and still only two serving windows open.
If Vince Cable is keen to convert The Post Office network into a John Lewis-style ownership where the employees own the company shares, then perhaps the staff at Brownhills Post Office should take a leave out of the John Lewis staff handbook: and recognise that people queuing to pay good money for their services, should take a greater priority over shuffling paper and afternoon tea!