Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Who Should Be Blamed for the Missing Discs?

Marianne Owens is a member of Rhondda RESPECT and currently Vice-Chair of the PCS Union in Wales, she writes in a personal capacity.
Following the loss of 25 million peoples personal records by the government, over 6,000 pensioners personal data was lost in an office in Cardiff. This is clearly linked to job cuts. Cardiff RESPECT was proud to visit PCS picket lines during the strike last May against attacks on civil service workers jobs and conditions.

The news that 25 million tax payers’ records have been lost by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) comes as no surprise to anyone, like me, who works for the organisation.

For several years our PCS union has been warning that the relentless “efficiency measures” being imposed by the department would lead to disaster. We are working under extreme pressure as jobs are cut, our offices are closed and there are weekly announcements of “procedural changes” designed to cut costs and corners.

One particular efficiency program that PCS members have been in dispute over has led to mountains of unopened post piling up – we believe that there are a million pieces of mail sitting unopened in dusty warehouses.

Staff training has been slashed. When I started work at HMRC five years ago, I received 16 weeks training, now new staff get a maximum of only four weeks.

What has incensed me most about the whole discs affair is the news that the government is holding a junior official – on administrative officer grade, and therefore earning around £14,000 a year – responsible for the scandal.

I find it unbelievable that an employee at this level would be solely responsible for the dispatch of such sensitive information. I am a grade higher than this, and I am barely allowed to sneeze without permission.

It is a disgrace that an ordinary low paid civil service worker, who would have been following orders, is used as a scapegoat for a national scandal while chief executive Paul Gray is allowed to resign, keep his pension, and no doubt a substantial pay off.

Let’s lay the blame squarely where it belongs – at the feet of our ex-chancellor and new prime minister Gordon Brown.

Marianne Owens, PCS R&C group executive committee member (pc)

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