I work for HM Revenue and Customs, as some of my gentle readers will be aware, an organisation which has had a few mishaps in recent years. Given that we raised approximately £380 billion for the Exchequer last year, you would think it self-evident that getting the structure right would probably be a good idea.
For many years, I toiled away, safe in the knowledge that I knew my management chain, could identify it most of the way up to the Board of Inland Revenue, and could be fairly certain that everyone in that chain had a vague idea as to what I did and where it fitted in.
Sadly, as the Department moves towards increasingly specialised roles, and away from the old concept of generalisation, I'm beginning to experience some existential doubts. I understand, and accept, that technology allows us to operate in ways unimaginable when I started but the old skills, whereby experienced officers could spot discrepancies, errors and evasions simply by reviewing a tax return have been replaced by risk analysis done by computer. The human touch seems to be being lost, at a time when the public are becoming increasingly keen on quality customer service.
We've also imported 'management skills' from the private sector, a concept which claims that a manager can manage any type of work as the skills required to do so are the same the world over. If only life were that simple... In a basic clerical situation, it may well be effective, but I work in an environment bound by tax law, and if you've ever seen a library of tax legislation, you'll understand how complex that is.
My current boss has had the dubious pleasure of managing me for more than a year now. He doesn't really understand what I do so ends up asking me for a report whenever an issue relevant to the group comes up for discussion. However, I'm not in those meetings so, if a counter-argument is put, he isn't equipped to fight our corner, a key role for a manager, I might suggest.
Since merging with our friends in Customs and Excise (they can kick down your door at four in the morning and requisition helicopters... am I jealous, you bet I am!), life has been one of permanent revolution, with new structures, new management jargon and the reconstruction of all that was recognisable as a chain of command. The latest rumour is that my team will be managed remotely by an Senior Officer (SEO, in old money) somewhere in London and Anglia Region. I look forward to discussing my promotion potential with someone seventy miles away who meets me once a month, if I'm actually at my desk.
I'm still loyal to, and care deeply about, the concept of HM Revenue and Customs as a core public service, after all, that's the very reason I joined the Department in 1986. However, it would be nice to be reminded in the midst of a maelstrom of reorganisation that someone out there cared about me...