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The Return of the Circumlocution Office

In which The Author is being fucked around

My regular readers have probably come across a reference in this blog to the ‘Circumlocution Office.’ It’s a phrase coined by Charles Dickens, in Chapter 10 of his novel Little Dorrit (published between 1855 and 1857), to satirise the British Civil Service.
The Circumlocution Office was (as everybody knows without being told) the most important Department under Government. No public business of any kind could possibly be done at any time without the acquiescence of the Circumlocution Office. Its finger was in the largest public pie, and in the smallest public tart. It was equally impossible to do the plainest right and to undo the plainest wrong without the express authority of the Circumlocution Office. If another Gunpowder Plot had been discovered half an hour before the lighting of the match, nobody would have been justified in saving the parliament until there had been half a score of boards, half a bushel of minutes, several sacks of official memoranda, and a family-vault full of ungrammatical correspondence, on the part of the Circumlocution Office.
This glorious establishment had been early in the field, when the one sublime principle involving the difficult art of governing a country, was first distinctly revealed to statesmen. It had been foremost to study that bright revelation and to carry its shining influence through the whole of the official proceedings. Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving—HOW NOT TO DO IT.
Through this delicate perception, through the tact with which it invariably seized it, and through the genius with which it always acted on it, the Circumlocution Office had risen to overtop all the public departments; and the public condition had risen to be—what it was.
As you can probably imagine, Dickens continues in this vein for a couple of pages, but you get the general thrust of his argument. I’ve been using the term ‘Circumlocution Office’ for a couple of years now. In the Twenty-First Century, it seems that not only did Dickens nail the Victorian Civil Service precisely, but also predicted its development over the next century and a half.
My claim for Employment and Support Allowance ended abruptly on 19 September, so I was thrown back into the maesltrom of the Circumlocution Office the following Monday. After a surprisingly quick telephone conversation with a pleasant lady in Halifax, I was given an appointment at Aberdare JokeJobcentre on the Thursday morning. I went along, armed with the first instalments of my paperwork (see What a Waste) and after a brief interview with an adviser (sorry, coach) I was given a fresh appointment.
On Wednesday 1 October, I attended my new claimant interview as arranged. At the end, I was given my regular signing time: 9.30 a.m. every other Thursday. As I would ordinarily have signed on the following morning, my coach said she’d save me a second trip into Aberdare and signed me there and then. I asked her when I could expect a payment, as by the following week I’d be running on empty. She told me that my claim would be processed on Friday, and that I should receive my money the following Wednesday (8 October.)
Needless to say, on Wednesday morning I went the cashpoint and found a zero balance. Luckily for me, my £5.00 refund from TfL (see Straightforward (Part 94)), had gone into my account the previous day, and I’d spent that on topping up my electricity. Even so, that left me with no money at all. I decided to phone the DWP from a payphone using their free number, but when I got to the part where I could speak to someone, I had to call another number. I didn’t have credit on my phone, or change for the payphone, so I walked into Aberdare and called into the Jobcentre.
After about ten minutes, I was able to speak to a adviser coach downstairs. She made an internal call, and then I had to go upstairs to speak to someone else. She checked on my file, confirmed some basic information, and then sent an email – presumably to the mysterious Caerphilly Benefits Centre. She told me that I could expect a phone call within three hours, and that my money would be paid before the end of business that day. In the event, I received a text at just before 3.00 p.m., and when I checked my balance at 3.30 I was extremely relieved to find that my money had been transferred.
A week ago today, I called in to sign on, as arranged at my previous interview. It had even been written down for me by my coach, so I knew the exact date and time.

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I arrived about ten minutes early, so I sat and read the paper while I waited to be called. At about 9.45, when I still hasn’t heard my name, I queried it with a member of staff. She told me that I should have gone to the desk upstairs.
I made my way upstairs, and was spotted by Ellen, who used to look after my claim a couple of years ago. She was surprised to see me, and told me that she was expecting me the following morning. To prove it, she rather shamefacedly produced a letter from my file. It was dated the previous Friday (10 October), and presumably should have been posted that day. I laughed it off, saying that it was lucky I’d called in, and went on my way.
The following day, however, while I was waiting to be seen, I saw a steady stream of people coming and going. Almost without exception, their appointments had been rescheduled without prior notification. When I eventually got to the Library, I wrote a letter to the manager of the Jobcentre. I pointed out that had I missed my Friday appointment – through no fault of my own – I would have undoubtedly been ‘sanctioned’ and my money would have been stopped. After having heard similar stories from some other friends, I decided to send an email to our MP, Ann Clwyd. Ironically, her constituency office is directly above the Jobcentre, in Crown Buildings, so that she doesn’t even need to pick up the phone to speak to the manager.
This morning, I arrived for my scheduled appointment, in plenty of time as usual. Ed and Karen J. were there, and we chatted for a little while before Karen’s name was called. When Ed hadn’t been called, he queried it and it took a few minutes before his paperwork was unearthed.
By 11.35 my name still hadn’t been called. One of the staff members told me that she’d track down my file, and spent about five minutes going from desk to desk before calling me to her desk. She explained that I’d been given the wrong information, and that I wouldn’t be signing on until next Thursday. Therefore, I wouldn’t be needed next Friday, as I’d been told. You can see her alterations to my schedule for yourselves.

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It’s a good thing that I’m a generally laid-back kind of guy, with a warped sense of humour and extensive experience of customer-facing work. If I was one of the alcohol- and/or drug-fuelled stroppy bastards who frequent the Jokecentre, I daresay the outcome of my last three visits might have been very different. It’s hardly surprising that the building is manned by security guards from HM Government’s favourite private army, G4S. I can understand entirely why people would kick off in there, if they’d been fucked around in the way I’ve been fucked around over the past month.
As I said in my letter to the manager, paperwork used to go astray in Dillons/Waterstone’s from time to time. When it did, the worst case scenario was that a customer didn’t get a book. When there’s a SNAFU at the Jobcentre, it risks leaving vulnerable people destitute through no fault of their own.
It seems to me that the entire system needs to be overhauled, and dragged into the Third Millennium where the rest of us live. There’s no reason why appointments need to be made by letter. We’ve all got mobile phones and/or email addresses, which allow instant communication at a fraction of the cost of sending a letter. There’s no chance of a mobile phone call going astray in the system, either. We’re all expected to use modern technology in our job searches; it’s high time the gatekeepers of the Circumlocution Office got with the program too.

Blackout

In which The Author doesn’t hear a news story on the BBC (again)

I’ve just picked up on an interesting little news story, via a Scottish blog named Bellacaledonia. I followed it up, and found the same story on the Guardian website, filed by Robert Booth just after midday yesterday.
Police erected a 2 metre metal fence around much of Parliament Square on Tuesday and arrested 15 demonstrators including Green party peer Jenny Jones.
Lady Jones, 64, chairwoman of the London assembly’s economy committee and deputy chair of its police and crime committee, was arrested for “obstructing police” as they moved in to break up the demonstration. She was “de-arrested” after giving details suitable for a summons.The politician could now face prosecution, Scotland Yard said.
“The evidence in this case will be considered and a decision made whether to proceed with a prosecution,” a Met spokesperson said.
Jones had been to see what was happening at the Occupy London protest on Tuesday morning after her office had been contacted by protesters complaining about heavy-handed police tactics.
The Greater London Authority said the fence was erected to enable the grass to be reseeded. Protestors insist it is their right to use the square to campaign on issues such as the privatisation of the NHS, tuition fees, the bedroom tax and benefit cuts for people with disabilities.
“They shouldn’t have arrested anybody here,” said Jones. “They should have just listened and left them alone.”
According to its website, the goal of the Occupy Democracy campaign is to “direct the energy from current single-issue struggles into a critical mass that can radically challenge the corrupt and unrepresentative system”.
A GLA spokesman said: “The fencing is in place to uphold the byelaws affecting Parliament Square and the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act. The protesters refused to comply with instructions to keep off the grass and enable workmen to get on with vital repairs and maintenance that are needed as a result of their actions.”
Jones is scheduled on Wednesday to give an address to the protesters on policing and civil liberties. She went to the protest on Tuesday after hearing that the police had arrived in as many as eight vans and their response to the protest was “disproportionate”.
Speaking after she was released, Jones said: “The police have a duty to facilitate peaceful protest in this country which people have a legal right to do, but that appears to end as soon as you come within shouting distance of the Westminster village. The people who run this country should not be able to tuck demonstrators away out of sight. Parliament needs to listen and people should have the right to get their voices heard.”
The swoop by police follows a crackdown on Sunday night when large numbers of officers converged on the square to enforce a “desist notice”.
Scotland Yard said in a statement on Tuesday: “This morning there were around 15 people demonstrating in Parliament Square. The group on the grassed area had been sleeping on a tarpaulin which is prohibited under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act of 2011, namely they have items with them to enable them to sleep in Parliament Square.
“We informed them of the breach of legislation and asked them to leave, this was done on a one-to-one basis. They were told that if they failed to leave they would be removed from the site and would be liable to summons for the offence.
“The tarpaulin has been removed and 15 people have been arrested for failing to provide details suitable for a summons. They have been taken to a central London police station. Our role is to facilitate peaceful protest whilst balancing the needs of London communities and minimising any disruption. We will not take sides, but we seek to apply the law fairly and proportionately.”
I listened to the whole of BBC Radio 4’s PM last night, and the half-hour news bulletin immediately following it. If I hadn’t looked through the Guardian website this morning, following a link which one of my friends had shared on Facebook, I wouldn’t have known anything about this police action at the heart of our democracy.
Once again, the BBC have chosen to ignore something which was going on right under their noses. Don’t tell me that one of the many correspondents who virtually inhabit the entrance lobby of the Palace of Westminster didn’t see what was happening. The mere fact that a senior member of the GLA was arrested should have been enough to rocket the story up the news agenda. But no – once again, the BBC ignored a legitimate protest in the nation’s capital.
If this was the first such occurrence, I might not have commented on it. However, it’s far from the first time the Ministry of Truth has chosen to censor any coverage of events like this. During the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, over fifty thousand people marched past the venue protesting about the privatization of the National Health Service. Unsurprisingly, the BBC failed to mention it. Just under a year ago, I related how a media blackout had been imposed on similar anti-austerity protests across the UK. Once again, almost all of the mass media turned a blind eye yesterday.
It’s perhaps significant that a Green Party politician should have been at the centre of yesterday’s news story. The Green Party, with their elected MP Caroline Lucas, has been frequently sidelined or ignored entirely by the BBC and the right-wing media. Only the Guardian, a left-of-centre paper with a strong following among environmental campaigners, seems to remember that Ms Lucas and her party even exist.
On the other hand, the UK Independence Party has gained far more news coverage and publicity from the BBC over the last two years than anyone would imagine. Its spokesmen – and they are men, without exception – have been given free rein to voice their rabid right-wing agenda and odious personal opinions on Question Time and Any Questions, in spite of UKIP having no parliamentary representation until a fortnight ago. I think it’s fair to assume that if Nigel Farage had been arrested yesterday, PM would have devoted over half the programme to the story, and a fair chunk of the main news bulletin as well. In the meantime, the Green Party struggle to get a mention, even as an afterthought, throughout the BBC’s daily news output. They’re just ‘a minority party’, you see.
The blatant censorship of a major news event less than a mile from Brainwashing House, which the assembled hacks can’t have failed to observe, makes me wonder just what legitimate anti-government protestors need to do in order to get their voices heard on the BBC. In fact, I’m starting to question what on Earth has happened to Auntie’s infamous ‘left-wing bias’?

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