A few days ago my mail from the Equalities Commission told me about its latest tranche of guidance. This related to employment in the public sector. It brought together the many and various aspects of the 2010 Equalities legislation to ensure that the relevant information and advice had been given.
There were 130 pages of it, which may not sound a problem. But most of this was quite generalised and discursive material indicating the areas to be considered and some of the principles that were essential to the legislation. It was short on detail and specifics apart from a few obvious examples.
The rest is not left to the imagination or discretion. Some of it is left to the Human Resources people and others to put into effect. However, a very great deal is left to the lawyers and all the panoply of the legal and tribunal systems to spell out as all the many and differing cases come to light.
The document is available on Word download from the Equalities Commission and is readable enough. It takes no longer to get through than one of those short novelettes of high literature that are popular with the chattering classes.
Encountering this, the thought was what stance might be taken? There is all the ideology, ethics, philosophy and the rest attached to Equality and Human Rights. Then there is the politics of it and allied to that the implications for education and a lot of other things.
Avoiding all that, what might be the reaction of your average person in some sort of management function in the public sector who was going to be lumbered with administering this, explaining it to both the subordinates and those at higher decision making levels, whether staff or politicians?
Given the extent and complexity of other employment legislation and provisions that have come into being, it is not just trying to make the best of a very difficult job. It is almost impossible to estimate or guess at what could happen, why and with what consequences.
Near forty years ago, experience of the then Health and Safety Act bad enough. Our politicians were reluctant to accept the advice of our Legal people to put in place the relevant structures. There was no hurry they said.
My boss did not want to upset them. He then found himself in court charged with a breach of the Act where the Chairman of the Magistrates was one the politicians insisting on deferring any decisions or making arrangements. He had the privilege of being among the first to be charged.
Inevitably, they were all anxious to find someone else to blame. It was not clearly explained to them was the excuse. But it was, our legal people were good and had explained things with brutal simplicity.
In the meantime we were scrambling around trying to sort out the employees on the subject, precious few of whom liked the implications. We were not helped by the trade unions which were thoroughly obstructive, despite being the ones responsible for demanding the Act in the first place.
That was then and it was comparatively simple and with much clearer legislation and guidance. Looking at the all the recent material that has poured out and adding both what is following on and some of the decisions arising trying to manage and operate a public service is now a legal and administrative minefield.
What is worse is that then a lot of people around had been in the military and were used to getting on with things and sorting it out as you went where necessary. Today, all are infected by the modern management virus and too many are unable either to decide or to organise without going round all the houses.
What is alarming is the sheer burden of work and complexity embedded in all this and more to the point the related costs. Quite seriously it looks as though the public sector will be spending so much time on dealing with its own problems and looking after its own staff that there will be little or no time to actually run the services.
It is all too possible that running the public sector on this basis is impossible.