There is not much which angers me more when trying to do my job than
bureaucracy and the wasted effort that so often accompanies it. In the past few
years we in the personnel department have suffered from a huge amount of
bureaucracy generated domestically and by Brussels. However, there is another
form of that same disease which seems to be afflicting us and which is
contagious in the extreme. I refer to the proliferation of agencies – official
and unofficial, quangos and voluntary groups – set up to support and focus our
attention on equal opportunities. At the last count there was more than 40.
This may be dangerous territory, akin to challenging motherhood and apple
pie, but my objective in raising the topic is not to draw attention away from
the issues but rather the opposite. I think the multi-faceted aspects of equal
opportunities are currently being badly served by the very fragmentation which
besets the subject.
Even a well-resourced personnel department in a large or medium-sized
enterprise that wants to keep up-to-date with all the legislation, codes of
conduct and best practice in equal opportunities will find extreme difficulty
in doing so faced with the constant barrage of letters, training courses, up-dates,
guidance notes, etc. Each claims priority, argues a perfectly reasoned case as
to why organisations should take the particular issue seriously and why it
should engage the support of line managers and employees in putting the
appropriate policy into action. And if large or medium-sized organisations are
having problems coping how does the small business manage?
I pity the organisation, typically a small business, operating without a
personnel officer but receiving a barrage of information daily on the whole
range of equal opportunities topics. Who do you turn to for unbiased, free, and
readily available advice on how to navigate a safe way through all the
requirements? Is it beyond the wit of man to combine all equal opportunities
issues under one broad agency?
I am reminded of the cautionary tale of the Federation of Small Businesses
which, faced with the huge welter of legislation of the past two years, asked
for some modest relief by asking the Government for a single inspectorate to
deal with all the regulations on health, safety, fire and environment. The
reply by the agencies was a classic: "No one person could possibly master
so many rules" …except presumably the small business man or woman
desperately struggling to make sense of them all and run a profitable business
at the same time.
I recognise that lots of independent agencies, lobby groups and support
groups would not wish to be limited by being under such an umbrella
organisation but as the various aspects of equal opportunities become enshrined
in the law, surely there is a case for bringing them together in some more