Rise of the four-day week? SNP should try living in the real world
IT was an act of sheer selflessness for Nicola Sturgeon to volunteer the public sector for a brave new experiment.
Civil servants and quangocrats would bravely take the plunge by becoming early adopters of a radical innovation — the four-day week.
An impressive sacrifice — and she went further by encouraging companies to promote ‘hybrid’ working to placate staff reluctant to get back to their desks.
For once, she’s even prepared to put her money where her mouth is by earmarking £10million to help bosses explore how to bring in the four-day week.
And it’s a policy that seems to be bearing fruit, not surprisingly, with college staff likely to be among the first to go over the top.
Meanwhile, the policy-makers who dream up this tosh are comfortable at home calculating the worth of their gold-plated pensions — and no doubt planning ahead for all those leisurely long weekends.
Quite how any of these perks could be maintained in an independent Scotland — with a deficit of nearly £40billion — is anyone’s guess.
But it’s another example of the pandemic shoring up the divisions between government, in all of its various manifestations, and the private firms whose workers fund it all through their taxes.
Meanwhile, bosses are trying to keep their companies afloat — and they know this kind of blue-sky thinking simply isn’t tenable.
They’ve just survived a period of extraordinary turmoil — those who were fortunate enough to weather the storm — only to find the same old sky-high business rates and punitive taxes.
It’s a sick joke to expect small and medium-sized firms, and perhaps even larger ones, to go along with these plans when they’re attempting to get back on their feet without laying off staff.
And of course it’s another indication of the skewed priorities of our political masters and their well-remunerated home-working apparatchiks.
Faced with the aftermath of a devastating pandemic (assuming it’s over, or almost behind us), their first response is to suggest everyone works a bit less — well, not quite everyone, just those on the payroll of quangos and councils, the bloated state in all its guises.
Forget putting your shoulder to the wheel, it’s more a case of checking what’s new on Netflix — and clocking off for a four-day weekend.
And it’s not as if they were doing badly before Covid swept in — last year it emerged that the former boss of Scotland’s police quango received nearly £200,000 for less than a year’s work.
The gravy train rumbles on — but Covid has hastened its progress.
Lockdowns have also proved a real fillip for the jobsworths, reluctant to give up control of our lives, having experienced the joys of large-scale meddling for months on end.
Public sector organisations are clinging to some of the lockdown requirements long after they were ditched as legal stipulations.
Social distancing is still observed in courts — meaning that for now remote juries based in otherwise half-deserted cinemas continue to be the norm.
While these residual strictures apply, there will be a perceived need for officialdom to police them, providing more work for the finger-waggers and the clipboard brigade, a self-sustaining culture of largely needless interference and micro-management.
Again, they take their lead from the top, with John Swinney telling clubbers he understands they may need to stand up in order to dance — not much of a concession, you might think, but good of him to make it…
Perhaps the most striking example of bad practice spreading as a result of the pandemic is the refusal of many family doctors to open their doors to all patients again.
It’s not clear why they are keeping us out now that coronavirus seems to be on the back foot.
But some surgeries have gone digital, with patients sending in pictures for GPs to examine — a second-class service which we’re expected to swallow, without any cut in our taxes (if anything, they’re bound to increase).
Private companies live or die by the satisfaction of their customers — they thrive by giving them exactly what they want, knowing that if they don’t someone else will.
In the rarefied realm of the public sector, there’s no such expectation, as the NHS demonstrates: we’re expected to cut it a great deal of slack, to the point where we’re turning a blind eye to the fact that it’s no longer capable of doing what it was meant to do.
Of course, we admire the work of its practitioners, often ill-served by fat-cat bureaucrats, and we want it to be properly funded.
But Covid will be cited for years to come to explain why you can’t get in to see your GP — and many more lives will be lost as a result.
In this sense, Covid has become the new Brexit — another excuse for bad service.
While the EU withdrawal talks were going on, SNP-run Glasgow City Council said No Deal would make rubbish collections difficult or impossible, though it was never spelt out why, and frankly a lot of us might struggle to notice.
Now it’s charging for the uplift of bulk domestic waste, a move quietly imposed in recent months, despite the inevitable rise in fly-tipping — not a great look for the city in the months leading up to the United Nations climate change summit in November.
Mind you, when you have a government that deals in fantasy economics, it’s no wonder that its blueprint for post-Covid recovery hinges on people working less.
The fact that Mr Swinney is in charge of it, after a long string of blunders, should be cause for concern in its own right.
We saw during the pandemic the extent to which government didn’t understand business, and couldn’t bring itself to care much about its usually entirely reasonable demands.
But now the SNP has teamed up with a party, the Greens, that explicitly disavows economic growth as a yardstick worth striving for, in favour of ‘well-being’.
And it’s all with the objective of taking us closer to the over-arching goal of building a new state where none of these perks would be viable anyway, as hyper-austerity would be the only option.
The hierarchy of the SNP and its assorted economic advisers are busy trying to cobble something together to sell the voters about what the currency would be in an independent Scotland.
But they’re all electoral cyanide, and ministers know it — so for now there’s a lot of non-committal, circular discussion that smacks of Nero getting his fiddle out as Rome is reduced to ashes.
The reality is ghost-town city centres hollowed out by mass home-working, and businesses in desperate need of practical help.
What they don’t want, and can’t afford, are more virtual brainstorming sessions by ministers and their lackeys — rewarding themselves with privileges denied to those of us unlucky enough to live in the real world.
*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on August 24, 2021.
Follow me on Twitter: @GrahamGGrant