The Civil Service has been likened to many things (most of which, particularly in recent times, are not very complimentary). A treasure chest (of the pirate variety) is probably not amongst the most commonly used analogies, but it does provide quite a useful- if slightly tenuous and inevitably cheesy– representation.
There’s often lots of treasure inside… but it can be very hard to get to
By “treasure” I’m referring to money and talent, both of which exist in sometimes quite staggering quantities in the Civil Service. In such a vast organisation access to money is often complicated, and talent isn’t always recognised. Additionally, relevant talent can be hard to locate and fiercely protected.
Many people want access to it. Some are pirates*
Many people (including members of the public, suppliers, MPs, and civil servants themselves) interact with the Civil Service. Most of them have noble intentions. But not all.
There’s not always treasure within (or “there are some skeletons in the closet”)
If you find a treasure chest you may not be happy with everything inside it. The same is true of the Civil Service; no organisation can please everyone, and every organisation has done things they later regret (or which are portrayed negatively).
It encourages competition and can provide direction
Hunting for treasure incites competitiveness and gives individuals focus. The same is true of the Civil Service; it can provide support and direction to individuals and organisations under the umbrella of the government, and encourage (and rely on) competition- for example between suppliers.
The supporting structures may seem out-of-date but they often provide sturdy foundations
Many of the Civil Service’s computer programs are based on legacy systems. They were typically written years ago and, as such, are often inflexible and very complex (as the locks and bolts around a treasure chest are…). Part of the reason they’ve lasted so long, however, is because they frequently provide solid foundations.
It encourages creativity (but not always intentionally)
If you’re looking for a treasure chest you’ll need to be creative. If you find a treasure chest you may have access to wealth that could fund more creativity. The Civil Service (/ the government) inspires and is aided by, and sometimes helps and enables, creativity.
A lot of people ignore/ overlook it
It’s easy to overlook a treasure chest (if it’s well hidden). Similar is true of the Civil Service; many don’t realise the role it plays and how the organisation can help them, or go out of their way to minimise their interactions with it. If it wasn’t here, however, we would soon notice (or would we? Perhaps that’s a topic for another blog post…)!
I could go on, but suspect the links would become increasingly sketchy. If you have alternative suggestions for Civil Service or government analogies please post them in the comments… the more creative the better.
* In this post “pirates” refers to the shiver-me-timbers variety.