Vague ramblings

Making it hard to be good

Posted in Irritants, Life, St Albans by Ian Cundell on 22 March, 2013

Some time ago – I’m not sure when, but in the past few years – Hertfordshire Constabulary carried out a reorganisation to make the delivery of services more efficient, presumably saving council tax payers a fair few quid. I am quite certain the analysis to support the changes was thorough. Indeed, they left only one teensy-weeny problem.

It is rubbish. Useless. And, crucially, counter-productive.

Let me explain.

A few months ago I lost my wallet while out cycling. No-one to blame by myself. It was a Saturday afternoon. As soon as I realised I went to St Albans Police Station to report the loss. It was shut. It was also shut on Sunday.

I went back on Monday. It was shut. Only then did I notice that it was only open 9am-6pm on the remaining days. To report my lost wallet outside these hours I had to travel to Hatfield. I was a bit disgruntled, but on the great scheme of things the only loss that hurt was a fair old collection of coffee loyalty cards – everything else was tiresome administration. My wallet has never turned up.

Then I remembered two incidents from the days before the management consultant-inspired reorganisation.

Once – also while cycling – I lost my house keys near Verulamium park. When I got home I realised, cycled to the police station where they has been handed in no more than an hour or so after dropping them.

Then, one Saturday before Christmas, I was walking home from the pub – at close to midnight – through St Peter’s Church Yard. I spotted a woman’s handbag on a bench, no-one around. I thought for a moment, then took it the five minutes or so to the Police Station. When I got back to the bench, the owner and her boyfriend were there, she in some distress. I told them it was at the Police Station, got a peck on the cheek from her and a cigarette from him.

Someone had been public-spirited regarding my keys; I was the same for the girl and her handbag.

Neither of these could happen now – but it is worse than that. What would I do now, if I spotted that lost handbag? As far as I can see my choices are to leave it and hope the rightful owner shows up before someone less honest, or take it – with a view to handing in later – and risk being accused of theft should the owners turn up at just that moment. And what would my key-finder do on a Sunday? Most likely, I suspect, put my keys on a wall and hope for the best.

What would I do? I honestly do not know.

The new arrangements may be efficient, but they are absolutely ineffective – and provide an outright disincentive to be public-spirited.

The problem is that you see this kind of process-led reorganisation in many walks of life, both public sector and private. It seems to me that making it hard to do the right thing can only end up in one place: people will stop doing the right thing and, instead, do the expedient.

And that can’t be good for society.

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