We're used to machines answering calls to tell us there's no one available, right? Or if someone amazingly answers the phone, they're able to take the call. Because their number is the one we called to have someone take it.
It seems that Sheffield City Council has hit on a new way of baffling the public, by employing people simply to answer the phone for departments that are probably now chronically understaffed. It's logical, if you think about it. Why pay 10 trained professionals to do a job for £25000 a year when you can pay an untrained person £15000 a year to inform the public the people they need to speak to are now down at the Job Centre, saving you a quarter of a million pounds per year? Apart from the 10 people telling you there's no one there to take your call for £150000pa...
It's still a hundred grand saved though, right?
But councils don't really work like that. So here's my vision of how the council reached their decision to employ people to take calls from people looking to have people take their calls even though there are now no people to take the calls that are being taken.
Still with me? Then I shall begin.
A committee of senior managers decides a meeting is needed to decide what job losses there will be. They book a conference centre, a caterer, hotel rooms and an events director to manage the whole shebang. The cost? A trifling £60000.
The committee decides that 10 departments can be trimmed of 50% of the staff. Not including themselves, of course.
Because the departments are now understaffed, it is decided that a committee needs to be set up to determine how best to deal with the calls that come in for the departments that now can't handle the calls. Conference centre. Caterer. Hotel rooms. Events director. 60 grand. Oh, and team building exercise booked for those that end up on the committee so they can get to know each other and "build a spirited amalgamation of inspired people working to the fulfillment of a long term enabled goal." Or something.
The committee is formed, 60 grand stuff happens again, and it is decided that what is needed is a fully automated, state-of-the-art windows-based telephone and email answering system that can manage calls for staff until they are able to take the call themselves, while directing customers to other possible places they can get the answers they seek, such as leaflets in local offices, websites, and the bloke next door who used to work for the council in the 70s. Even though he was on the bins.
The committee reviews the options and discovers the best systems developed are offered by companies in Germany, Japan, the USA, and New Zealand.
Committee representatives are dispatched, first class (because you need happy, rested staff to make important decisions) to Germany, Japan, the USA and Brazil on week-long fact finding missions at beaches - sorry - businesses, to determine which system will be most suited to their requirements. With a sensibly priced team of translators, of course. This comes to the cheap and cheerful price of £250000.
The committee returns to examine the findings, bringing in a private financial advisor to assess the budget implications, a technical director to put the complicated computery stuff into layman's terms, and a marketing consultant to convince the directors of the benefits of each of the systems. All of them a snip at £195000 per year.
The decision is made: they're going for the American made system. After narrowing the options down on three further visits to each of the tendering companies for a mere £750000. The system is imported, private contractors are brought in to install the system and a team of professional software engineers are taken on to rigorously test the system. All for just short of a million quid. Bargain.
The computer voice detection system can't understand the Sheffield accent. Bogga.
A local software company modifies the system to accept local dialect, and it's all for the reasonable price of £75000.
It now doesn't understand standard English, and most importantly it doesn't understand immigrant accents. The committee consult with the Equal Opportunities Commission and determine the computer system is racist and it gets scrapped. After several upgrades at a cost of just £10000.
The committee then decides it can save further by not having a computer system at all. It decides this at a conference centre (you know the drill, the cost) and they come up with the idea to create jobs by having people answer the phone to tell people there's no one in the department that can take their call. All for just £100000.
And that, folks, is how a local council can save £100000 a year.
Easy, isn't it?