Howard Croft column: Sticky bun police cook up more ‘well-being’ advice

A Treasury offical has advised office workers to cut back on cake and sugar-loaded treats in the office.
A Treasury offical has advised office workers to cut back on cake and sugar-loaded treats in the office.

A story covered in several national newspapers was so ludicrous that I had to check that it was not already 1 April. A “well-being” official at the Treasury has instructed the department’s civil servants to cut back on cake and other sugar-loaded treats in the office. It is a common practice among office workers to celebrate colleagues’ birthdays and other occasions by scoffing cake during their coffee breaks. This is clearly a “public health hazard”, the pen pushers have been advised, and unfair to their weaker brethren who find it difficult to resist “processed treats”.

Quite so. When I worked in an office, many years ago, I discouraged this kind of carry on and instead provided my team (hub I ought to say these days) with a few bottles of full-bodied red and bowls of peanuts. Dry roasted peanuts, of course; there is an obesity epidemic, remember. Nothing could be consumed until nightfall or clocking-off time, whichever was earlier, which in the winter months could be as late at four o’clock.

We were not in the fortunate position of being able to employ a “well-being” manager to keep us on the straight and narrow, but I had to apply my own common sense, which never let me down. The “well-being” official is not alone in her public health endeavours – she is merely one member of the Wellbeing Workstream of the Wellbeing Network at the Treasury. Are you sure it is not 1 April, I ask myself? Is someone in the Treasury being playful with us? Surely not. It all reminds me of the good old days when local councils employed “gender outreach officers”, whose duties were far from clear, and other absurd busy bodies whose job descriptions were never published. Probably they still do. Anything is believable.

If I remember correctly, it was Treasury officials who were asking for increased salaries to compensate them for the extra work arising from the BREXIT negotiations. It is all the more surprising, therefore, to hear that they are wasting time on coming up with a policy on sticky buns.

More locally, something from much lower down the greasy pole of public service. From time to time I am approached by apoplectic citizens urging me to write up and expose some asinine utterance or absurd posturing coming from the ruling classes and their grim-faced henchmen. This is not because I do not care and certainly not because I do not enjoy lampooning the pompous and self-important, but really because they are beyond parody. However, I recently heard of an episode that so nicely exemplifies how poorly we are governed I feel compelled to share it; surprisingly, on this occasion it does not involve Ryedale District Council, but North Yorkshire County Council.

A small group of residents living in a cul-de-sac were concerned about the poor state of their road, which as it is un-adopted is their responsibility to maintain. They approached the council to see if it could be adopted. Yes, said the council, but only if they, the council, were to employ their approved contractor to bring the road up to scratch, but the residents would have to pay the costs. Fair enough, you might think.

The council provided an estimate, which was far in excess of anything they had imagined and beyond their means. How would it be, then, if the residents were independently to arrange and pay for the restoration of their road, would the council then adopt the road? Yes, provided that they use the same approved contractor, but even then, the adoption could not be guaranteed. The residents got a price from the approved contractor, which was “a fraction” of the price quoted by the council, went ahead with the work and decided to forget about the council.

Has no-one at county halls not wondered why members of the public can get work done, by council approved contractors, at a much lower price? Is there something wrong with their procurement service? Are they marking up to make a bit on the side, and if so why? Are they being ripped off by their suppliers? And why, given that the residents were willing to pay for the work, did they complicate matters by introducing uncertainty by not guaranteeing adoption when the residents had agreed to their conditions?