Officials on unworkable policies: ‘We are not listened to enough’

In addition, there were persistent problems with the tax authorities, misses by the UWV in the control of benefits and the CBR, which was almost unable to issue driving licences. In recent years, things have been going wrong at government implementing organisations and the Lower House of Parliament is now investigating why. Officials think they know it: they are not listened to enough when making policy.

Trade union CNV conducted a survey among more than 450 employees of the Tax and Customs Administration, UWV and other implementing organisations. Two-thirds (68% of those surveyed) say they are rarely, if ever, involved in drawing up policy or rules. If they were, many mistakes could be avoided, according to officials we speak to.

Although a majority is quite satisfied in several areas, there is also a significant proportion of civil servants who send out strong signals. A quarter of the employees questioned feel unsafe in their own service or organisation. And more than a third call themselves frustrated because they are not taken seriously.

Say no to The Hague more often

The civil servants do not feel that they have been heard, according to the survey and the stories of (former) employees of government organisations who spoke at New Hour. They have the idea that politics in The Hague makes rules without looking closely at whether the new policy is actually workable on the shop floor.

And when the shop floor indicates to the managers that the new policy is not workable in practice, these managers often dont tell The Hague, it sounds like. In the survey, three-quarters of the civil servants therefore advised to dare to say no to politics more often if The Hague again comes up with new policy or rules.

The people who carry out the work know better than anyone how it should be done, says Huub van Bijsterveld, until recently an official in the Tax and Customs Administration. Thats why he doesnt understand that the shop floor is no longer involved. He cites the Bulgarian fraud as an example. These Bulgarians were able to take the allowances out of the wall with their badges, without taking a step in the Netherlands

According to Van Bijsterveld, this was due to the fact that politicians were essentially of the opinion that if you applied for an allowance in the morning, it had to be in your account in the afternoon. The warning from the shop floor that the system would not work was ignored.

Bob Bouwhuis enjoyed working for the UWV for many years, but became so frustrated by all the new rules that he quit. He felt that digitisation meant that he could no longer do his work properly: the human dimension disappeared. He no longer saw the people he had to help at work at all and spent hours accounting for what he was doing that day.

Bouwhuis also saw that signals from the shop floor did not get through to policymakers. For example, when he had to check more strictly on the export of benefits to countries such as Poland. At the same time, we were not allowed to do anything. It was not even allowed to look on Facebook to see where someone was hanging out, because of privacy rules. We indicated that some rules got in our way, but nothing was done about that.

The trade union CNV is concerned that many officials do not feel heard. Many civil servants have the idea: they dont listen to me, I am an expert and I am not heard. That is precisely what we want to draw attention to: have an eye for that officials knowledge, says Loek Schueler of the trade union.

Parliament needs to look more closely at what is workable

In a special committee led by VVD leader Andrรฉ Bosman, the House of Representatives is investigating what is going wrong with the implementing organisations. People have already been heard behind the scenes, and the public hearings will begin in the autumn. The trade union CNV hopes to be heard there as well.

The Cabinet is also having investigations carried out into the recurrent failures at implementing organisations. Only yesterday, it presented a study in which it was stated that legislation and regulations should indeed be more practicable.

In the House of Representatives, some people are putting their own house in order when parliamentarians are confronted with the stories of civil servants. Yes, they should look more closely at what is workable, they say. But MPs also say that ministries often make it difficult for them to know what is really going on on the shop floor.

For example, civil servants are not allowed to speak directly to members of parliament if they do not have permission to do so. CDA, SP and ChristenUnie say that they would like to change this in order to be able to exercise better control.