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Friday, 20 June 2014

They think it's all over

Let's not go there. Let us try to ignore the fact that for £3 million a year Roy Hodgson managed England out of the 2014 World Cup in the fastest time since before the Flood.

Let's resist congratulating Gerrard for the greatest assist ever. Let's instead focus on my amazing week.

On Monday I went to One Horseguards, Whitehall. When I worked there it was called Treasury Chambers: for the very good reason that Her Majesty's Treasury was housed there. The whole magnificant edifice was full of Treasury civil servants - nothing but.

Now it's rather sad. In the late 1990's it was decided that the Treasury was too big for the number of mandarins it needed. Deputy Secretaries didn't need extra large rooms- in fact the Treasury didn't need Dep Secs, an unnecessary extra management layer. Under Secreataries didn't need lavish rooms and they certainly didn't need a separate room for their secretary. In fact they didn't need a secretary as they'd do their own typing and e-mailing. The lower grades didn't need their very own desk - they could share - hot desk; work from home, on the tube, in the loo -all were wi-fi connected.

And so Treasury Chambers was gutted. The Treasury, once grand occupant of a glorious late Victorian edifice with echoing corridors, echoing panelled, high vaulted rooms and miles and miles of paper files was turned into a Google build. Honestly, a lot of what was done is great. Huge external light vaults were glassed over and turned into restaurants, internal gardens and rest areas. But the Treasury shrunk into a tiny corner of the reconfigured Government Offices Great George Street.

In marched Revenue and Customs to take over the majority of the space. It's no secret - the Treasury ideas people think the HMRC bods are a load of unimaginative dorks. Treasury lays out the broad strategy and HMRC ineffectively implement it.

Now HMRC have the major share of the building, then there's the Treasury and the Cabinet Office and Department of Fun and Deportment. It's all rather sad for an old Treasury wonk like me. But times have changed. I mean there was a time when we'd get to the last 16 - sorry.

Back to my tale. On Monday I had a lunch date with two people working in One Horseguards. One works in HMRC, the other in the Cabinet Office. It was a purely social lunch - they are fellow Board members of our local Citizen Advice Bureau. But I was returning to my old department, I might meet people I'd known. It was therefore important that I made a good impression.

Dressing appropriately, in a neat Italian suit with a bleached white shirt, Italian winkle picker shoes, I headed for my dinner date. As I approached the Whitehall entrance, crowds parted, my sartorial elegance intimidating all before me. I gave my name to the man at the enquiry desk and he immediately called my lunch date. Indeed, both my lunch dates arrived to escort me into the hallowed chambers.

I was disappointed that there was no executive dining suite. In the old day there was, with waitress service and a very competent wine cellar. We had to queue up -just like school meals but with out the huge dollops of lumpy custard. We all had the veggie curry - safe but boring.

It was in the queuing that I espied JB. I'd worked with him in the late 1990's. Then he was a young economist from the Welsh Office we'd recruited. His career path was astronomic. In no time he was Private Secretary to the Chancellor and then the PM. He'd done more in 16 years than I'd achieved in 35 years. Fond memories; we'd worked on devolution, Scottish  finances preparing the way for the funding and financial arrangements ahead of devolution in 1998. Now JB was at the heart of Government's efforts to bolster the "No" campaign. I didn't envy him.

After our lunch I was given a tour of the old building. It was unnerving. So much had changed yet behind the restructuring I recognized old forms. Open spaces now, I remembered as neat offices with desks, filing cabinets and hat stands.

Do you know that HMRC officers have two computer screens? Brilliant, I only thought gamers and hackers had that. While HMRC' s offices are tidy, regimented you might say, those of the Treasury are chaotic - there are no offices. People work on the run, anywhere you can find to sit is an office, a conference room. The Cabinet Office is unclear how to orient its desks and the Department of Fun and Deportment is all over the shop. It must be the creative urge.

I have this fantasy. If someone asked me to work again at the Treasury would I agree. One part of me would jump at the offer. It was such a stimulating place - so many ideas, so much chatter, joking and smart arseness. Then I'd fear I'd be too slow mentally, having to work with brains 40 years younger than mine. Not clogged up with prejudice and old solutions.

Frankly I think I'm at my most creative now. Partly that's because there's now no limit on what I'm supposed to know, but also because I've finally learnt something that an old Treasury boss told me. The only limits are those you impose on yourself.


Steve said...

You are the blogging equivalent of an Establishment mole.

Bojo said...

So James Bond is going to save the union? Those tartan lasses had better cross their legs...

Jack the Hat said...

HMRC need two screens. One to look at our bank accounts, the other to type the tax demand. Cash in hand is always the best solution.

Anonymous said...

Don't supppose George Osborne was having lunch that day. His diet appears to be paying dividends. Starving himself in the same way that he is starving the public sector of investment!

Barry Coidan said...

Dear Steve, well what a compliment.

Dear Bojo, That's right him and M.

Dear JtH, they need three screens to look at my bank account.

Dear Anon, I'm reliably informed he'd ordered a burger.