All over whitehall, officials are getting ready to breathe a sigh of relief. Recess starts at the end of this week and that means MPs and ministers will go off on their holidays, things will get a bit quieter, and everyone can get some well earned R&R.
Unfortunately, the week or so before recess is a nightmare for people running government websites. Policy officials all over the department suddenly remember that they were supposed to have something published online months ago and they’re going on holiday for three weeks at half four.
‘It simply must be published’ , ‘It’s one of the department’s priorities’, ‘The minister has insisted that it goes on the website today’, are all commonly heard phrases from anxious harassed officials on the phone during weeks like this.
To be fair to them, sometimes policy decisions are made late in the day as ministers clear their boxes before they go off on hols. The problem is the officials conveniently forget to tell us that something might be coming our way until they’ve got that magic signature on the submission. Then insist that something must be done that instant. If we calmly explain that, ‘we are already dealing with twenty similar requests, we’ll try to fit them in but it might not be until tomorrow’, you can bet your bottom dollar that their manager will call back in five minutes insisting that their pronouncement is more important than anyone elses.
They often forget to tell us that they are also going on holiday tonight. But we always know the underlying reason. Case in point. Last summer one of my staff took an ‘urgent’ call early on Friday morning. Usual story, the world will end if this is not published by the end of today, the minister had read the runes blah blah blah.
(us) ‘Alright, we’ll do our best, can you send us the documents in question together with the form we send out for all publication jobs’ (this covers things like metadata, where on the site it should go etc etc).
Nothing heard back by lunchtime. We called them – out to lunch. Left messages, still nothing.
Finally made contact at around 3pm. (them) ‘Why haven’t you published it yet?’ – (us) ‘You haven’t sent the documents to us’.
Wait a bit longer, call back – (us) ‘Is this still happening, we assume its not as you haven’t sent anything’ – (them) ‘I’ll send it in five minutes’.
Forty five minutes later, the email arrives. No documents attached. Try calling back, no reply. Send an urgent email ‘we tried calling you, need the documents urgently’. Twenty seconds later, we get an out of office message, on holiday for three weeks. Urgently tried calling, eventually somebody else picks up the phone, ‘Sorry he’s gone, don’t know anything about the documents’.
Three weeks later, (them) ‘why didn’t you do that thing I asked you?’ (us) ‘you didn’t send it’.
Its the same every time… Still next week it will be a little quieter.