View from the bottom: the actual essay

Well, here I am safely back – no nettle-patch, and no badgers sighted. Here is the prize-winning essay I so foolishly promised to type out for you this morning. I shall try to resist the temptation to edit, prune or improve my 1986 punctuation. I’ve no idea how many words it is. We shall see…

LUNCH hour… One of those rare Indian summer days when there isn’t a ripple of wind to flutter the tacky-shades on their posts. the only sound to be heard is that of the water swishing around in the syphon recovery and the occasional screech of a gull. My fellow clerks and I are crammed on to an inadequate wooden bench making one last attempt to get a tan on our legs before autumn.

What, I wonder sleepily, are the Aims and Objectives of the Industry? What is the industry, come to that? You see, to someone fairly close to the bottom of the heap, importance-wise (especially someone working 25 miles from the nearest Marks & Spencer and surrounded by nothing but sea, shingle and butterflies) the CEGB scarcely exists at all except as a kind of Cheshire Cat, materialising briefly on paydays.

The aim of the electricity supply industry should be, and presumably already is, to produce plentiful, safe, economical electricity. The Board is in the best of all possible situations, for it is producing something that everybody wants, and will continue to want in ever-increasing quantities. In order to cash in on this bright “electric” future it should be drawing on all its resources; not just uranium and coal but inventiveness, imagination and, above all, enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, enthusiasm etcetera is not purchasable with high wages or job security, and it isn’t reasonable to expect people to be overjoyed about a product which cannot be seen or counted, eaten or displayed in nice, shiny heaps. Their interest has to be won by encouragement, questioning, suggesting, listening and occasionally being prepared to act upon an idea from an unlikely quarter.

The trouble with aims is that they are human things and the CEGB, even on a good day, could hardly be described as human. Just like this “green and pleasant land” its functioning is impaired, and for much the same reason: it’s too big!

The reins are apparently in the hands of faceless men in distant offices. Any impression they make is likely to be fleeting – a gaggle of yellow helmets being herded around the latest hi-tech installation, or a typescript name at the foot of a letter signed by somebody else. People work for people, not for objectives. The interest they take is directly proportion to the power they wield.

CEGB employees no doubt trade in their eight or so hours a day as cheerfully as any, but are they really giving their all? Open any edition of Power News and out will pop a round-the-world yachtsman, a long-distance runner or a maker of matchstick models. I am not suggesting that any one of these talents could be used to increase output by so much as a kilowatt. They do indicate little pockets of determination and flair. Perhaps the CEGB should be seeking out the individualist rather than attempting to squash him into some convenient grey-suited or green-overalled mould.

To achieve any really worthwhile objective as an organisation needs more than passive co-operation or mindless acceptance from its members. Those of us who tan our legs and read our dog-eared paperbacks round the back of the admin block possess more energy than you might suspect.

How about weekly talk sessions at which suggestions, innovations and complaints could be given an airing. Go on CEGB, risk a little anger; you never know what might come out of it. And supposing there was a continuous training and assessment programme aiming to discover talent and put it to best use.

Try people out in different areas, teach them anything and everything they are prepared to learn. Experiment!

In all probability the industry will never actually need to be go-getting in order to survive, but surely there is still a moral duty to impress the world, to justify the Great in Great Britain.

It sounds so dreadfully Victorian, doesn’t it, but perhaps a handful of the old-time commercial virtues – loyalty, diligence and enterprise – might help us rediscover some of our ailing national spirit. The organisation to aim for is one in which each individual takes a pride in his own “patch” and knows that his contribution makes a difference, one way or another.

The industry should aim to be competitive even in the absence of competition, and its objective should be a change of name. Instead of It, why not call it Us?

Oh, some cringe-worthy moments in there! But not bad for thirty years ago.

Thirty years ago? Can it really be….

4 thoughts on “View from the bottom: the actual essay

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