A Queer name, but I'm not a queer fish
AN Elgo is not a queer fish. but a Local Government Officer — 1.0.0. It's a queer title for an "officer" may be anything from an office boy to that haughty dictator, the Clerk of a County Council.
The work is most interesting in a small Rural District, where the staff is small and one officer has to deal with many different jobs.
As Chief Clerk in an Engineer and Surveyor's Department I find on my desk in the morning a pile of correspondence which includes applications for permission to build anything from a shed to an estate, complaints about holes in the road, blocked drains, and unco-operative neighbours.
ONE of the first things an Elgo learns is the art of passing work to someone else. The public benefit in the end, because any item that is not in my province is referred to the right quarter with the minimum of delay.
Acting on this principle, I hastily pass the plans to the Building Inspector for checking, the road complaints to the County Council Highways Department and the blocked drains to the Sewage Foreman. This leaves me with the unco-operative neighbours. These are not difficult. but tact is required. Many people seem to think that the Council is all-powerful, and it is not always easy to convince an angry householder who complains that water from his neighbour's garage roof is flooding his garden that there is nothing we can do about it.
IN the midst of dictat
-t ing I am asked to deal with a caller who wants to know whether plans were ever approved for a garage at a property he is is buying, He thinks it must have been in 1954, but he doesn't know who was the owner then,
This means checking every plan deposited for that parish since 1953 (to be on the safe side).
I set someone on to that, and go back to my dictating. Some time later I am told no plans for a garage at that property can he found I question the enquirer more fully.
No, he isn't absolutely sure it was in 1954.
No, there is no garage there now. He'd just gathered an impression that plans might have been submitted about then . . We needn't bother any more, it didn't really matter. He goes cheerfully away, leaving a busy junior clerk muttering rude words. I remind hint we are the servants of the public, but the rebuke lacks conviction, and he coldly ignores it.
MY next interruption is a telephone call from an agitated lady who has accidentally put an important letter in her dustbin.
Would we try to find it, please?
I point out that as her dustbin was emptied on the previous day. the letter is probably under at least fifty tons of assorted household refuse.
She sounds unconvinced and ob viously thinks I am trying to avoid work.
Knowing the reaction I would get from the Refuse Collection Foreman if I even mentioned it to him, however, I remain firm and—with an effort — polite. MOTHER caller has
-L-L arrived and is being difficult. l am asked to deal with him. Apparently he is objecting to Our Building Byelaws. "I've lived in London for twenty years, and they never insisted on it!" he blusters.
Now, we may he only a humble R.D.C., and therefore lowest in the Local Government social scale, but we have our pride. 1 point out coldly that this is not London, and if he wants to build in our District he must obey our Byelaws.
He goes away, mumbling but crushed.
Among my correspondence there is often an anonymous letter, drawing attention to some breach, usually very small, of a regulation. It is my firm opinion that if a person has not the elementary decency to sign his name, his mischief-making efforts should he ignored, but if the letter has been referred to me by my Chief or another Officer. I must act upon it, however reluctantly.
often lumped together with the Civil Service when red tape is being criticised, but you may take it from me that the Elgo suffers from it far more than the general public. They come up against it only occasionally, but he is bound and strangled with it all the time.
Much of my own time is spent in trying to explain to enquirers — usually irate — some tangled and apparently illogical regulation.
On one occasion I was asked to quote the authority for a certain decision, and it was necessary to search through five Acts of Parliament and a number of Ministerial Circulars.
The answer was eventually found in a thick wad of Notes attached to a Circular nine years old. So don't think we spend our time inventing these rules just to torment the public. We hate them as much as you dot