Life on Mars

As I write this, I am just one day away from retirement from the Government Communication Service (GCS) after 41 years in the Civil Service.

The organisation I leave tomorrow is very different from the one I joined back in 1980 but Britain back then was very different too. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, flared trousers were still in fashion, inflation was at 18% and the pre-decimal sixpence coin was still in circulation!

The Civil Service Department I joined was Health and Social Security. There were no computers, no email, no Instant Messaging, no mobile phones and much less awareness of health and safety.

I joined a team who were responsible for the annual uprating of benefits. Every individual’s paper file had to be manually lifted from the forest of cabinets that filled the office and brought to the section where the increase was worked out with pen, paper and calculator.

Never mind a clear desk policy, it was hard to even see the desktops under the stacks of files! Then there was at-desk smoking. This was permitted all day with official Department for Health and Social Security (DHSS) ashtrays provided – I remember them being made of glass and, although I’m not 100% sure, I think they may also have borne the Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) crest! Managers were referred to as ‘Mr’ (they were all men as far as I recall) rather than by their first name and whether or not your chair had armrests was dependent on your grade.

I went on to spend 34 years in what is now Department for Work and Pension (DWP), working in a dozen or so Benefit Offices and Jobcentres around London, doing a wide variety of mainly public facing duties. As well as the office based work, this included roles such as visiting benefit recipients in their homes (I could write a book!) and my personal favourite, staff training. I helped introduce the first computers into the department in 1988 and it was around that time that email arrived to change our lives forever! Although at first I only checked my inbox twice a day because so few people were sending them!

I moved from DWP into what is now the Government Legal Department (GLD), before finally coming into Cabinet Office and GCS around 18 months ago. In both GLD and GCS I have been privileged to be involved in major cross-government change projects that have been challenging, absorbing, interesting and important.

In the last 41 years, I have done some truly memorable things but more memorable than the work are the wonderful people I have met on the way; talented, generous, committed, hard working, loyal, fun and dedicated. The world has changed since 1980 but one thing has been constant, I had colleagues like that in my first job and I’m leaving colleagues like that in my last.

The Civil Service is a great place to work and I am proud to have been a part of it for so long.

When the time eventually comes for you to leave, your farewell blog will probably recall a strange world back in 2021 that saw empty offices, social distancing, face masks, homeschooling and Zoom. Lots and lots of Zoom. But I am confident it will also tell how GCS not only functioned but thrived in such difficult circumstances, thanks to the wonderful people who worked there.

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  • Paul Mortimer (1)