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Firearms licensing departments and WFH: Alasdair Mitchell has his say

Being unable to take work phone calls during working hours isn’t WFH — it’s simply being at home, which is crazy given the licensing backlog says Alasdair Mitchell

I received a ‘do not reply’ email the other day from the section of Defra that deals with mapping farms. Somebody decided to delete part of my farm from the register of productive agricultural land, reclassifying it as ungrazed scrub instead. The bit of land in question is tiny and inconsequential, but its reclassification is not only incorrect but will also have a much bigger knock-on effect. It means that I shall have to rejig various calculations for my annual farm returns. What a faff.

The email stated that if I disagreed with the change they had made, I should call a central telephone number. So I did.

Contact centre

Is there anything more soul-destroying than trying to phone a so-called ‘contact’ centre? We’ve all been there. When I eventually got through, the person at the other end of the phone didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. I asked if I could speak to somebody at the department that had sent me the email. They couldn’t put me through because so many are working from home. We’ll ask somebody to call you back, they said. Naturally, they never did.

For the record, I am a long-standing advocate of working from home (WFH) and flexible — or hybrid — working where appropriate. (Read Alasdair’s earlier article on moving from city working to the countryside.) My position on this far predates COVID-19. Hybrid working has all sorts of benefits, as I have expounded before. But the operative word is ‘working’. Not being available to take work telephone calls during conventional working hours, when you are being paid for those hours, is merely being at home.

Some time ago, I explained how a friend of mine asked Defra why nobody in a certain section was answering the telephone. The reason, he was told, was that a huge number of employees had gone off “on the sick” because of the strain of having to look after their own children all day when the schools were shut.

Covid – the excuse that never stops giving

That was then — so what’s the excuse today? Vast chunks of the enormous public sector have unilaterally decided to alter their employment contracts in their own favour, apparently. Covid is the excuse that never stops giving. An undercover investigation by The Times revealed that thousands of ‘workers’ at the DVLA were at home doing nothing, on full pay. A Government minister has been drawing up a league table of departmental office attendance. The average daily attendance figure in early April was 44%, with Defra scoring only 33%. I wonder what a similar survey would reveal about police firearms licensing departments? Many still claim to be struggling with huge backlogs allegedly caused by Covid.

WFH and flexible working

To reiterate, I have nothing against WFH, as long as it entails actually working. But how on earth can a firearms licensing department still be citing Covid as an excuse more than nine months after lockdown ended? Isn’t one of the arguments in favour of flexible working that it improves productivity?

And why do so many firearms departments cash your cheque promptly, when they know they are not even going to look at your application for months?