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Whitehall’s “sod-the-public” mantra

Leo Patrizi/Getty

It turns out DVLA stands for “Doing Very Little, Actually”, says Clare Foges in The Times. An investigation last week found that the reason people are having to wait up to 12 months to get a new driving licence is because much of the DVLA’s workforce has been dossing about for the past two years. More than half the staff, some 3,400 people, were on so-called “special leave” during the first lockdown – no work on full pay. Even as recently as January, there were still more staff working from home than on site.

This “sod-the-public” attitude isn’t limited to the DVLA. For too many organisations, the phrase “because of Covid” has become an all-purpose justification for slackness, “a blanket excuse for poor service”. In the private sector, customers can at least “vote with their feet”. But that’s often not the case with public services and agencies. The most prominent irritation is GPs swapping face-to-face appointments for “hard-to-book phone consultations”. New passports now take up to 10 weeks to arrive, up from three. There are also reports of “grindingly long delays at HM Land Registry, with probate applications and with tax rebates from HMRC”. Some of this will be a legitimate “hangover” from the height of the pandemic. But I bet a lot of it isn’t. For too many workplaces, “the clock stopped in spring 2020”.