Warm and sunny Cadiz, in South-West Spain, back in 2016, feels like a world away from rainy Britain in late November 2023. But it was there that one Joaquin Garcia, a civil servant, managed to be absent from his job supervising the construction of a waste water treatment plant for six whole years whilst still being paid.
In this respect, Britain has become just like this Spanish town, for local councils are now admitting to some employees getting caught moonlighting while “working” from home. In Senor Garcia’s case, he stayed at home and read philosophical works; but council workers back in Blighty are taking advantage of the new WFH culture by taking whole other jobs and pocketing two pay cheques.
Work from home has been a feature of the modern workplace since the lockdowns, and it is proving an intractable issue. Private sector businesses should be free to have whatever legal working practices they wish. But it should a different story in the public sector, where government bosses, both local and national, have an extra responsibility to help train the next generation of administrators and officials. Junior civil servants and council staff benefit enormously from being in the office, meeting peers and watching their superiors operate. It allows for a freer flow of ideas, for problems to be solved more quickly and for managers to assess strengths and weaknesses of their teams and address those points accordingly.
Taxpayers deserve to know that their hard-earned cash that props up the state is being spent on this kind of diligent leadership, as they are the ones who will feel the benefits (or the detriments if not addressed). That we are now discovering such flagrant abuses of the system is maddening, but it is hardly surprising.
If so many in the public sector have so little to do in the day that they can fill whole other jobs, then perhaps this also tells us about how bloated these organisations have become. You would have hoped that staff would be in the office, eager to show their bosses how hard they work for the public; for those without that zeal to show such contempt for those who pay their wages shows how much scope there is for widespread reform.
Alternatively, of course, we could embrace more part-time jobs, with pay to reflect it, and encourage civil servants and officials to have other work that positively enhances their abilities.
I passionately believe MPs ought to have second jobs, too. If the MP for Richmond, N Yorks, is able to hold down a second job (in his case at least properly declared) as First Lord of the Treasury and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, backbenchers should be encouraged to learn about what is happening in the worlds of business, charity and elsewhere.
Maybe then they would spend less time coming up with pointless laws banning smoking, or campaigning to block essential new houses. They might even learn a thing or two in the process, as well.
With an AI revolution around the corner, the last thing workshy officials in local government should be doing is highlighting how irrelevant their jobs actually are. But perhaps they are too busy with their second jobs to notice that.