The next time you call your council and are passed around from department to department, put on hold 5 times and hear lots of laughing and giggling in the background while you are getting nowhere and angrier by the second, remember this...
In his emergency Budget this week, Chancellor George Osborne announced he was cutting public sector expenditure by 25 per cent. Unions have declared the cuts irresponsible. But are they? Here, one employee for a large inner London authority lifts the lid on the culture of inertia and incompetence at his workplace. The Mail knows the true identity of the man - a graduate who has been a planning officer for eight years. But to protect his job, he is writing under an assumed name.
Monday morning, it's 10am and I'm late for work - but there's no point hurrying because even though I should have been at my desk 30 minutes ago, I know I'll be the first to arrive at the office.
Sure enough, the planning department is a ghost town.
Our flexi-hours policy means that employees can start any time between 7.30am and 10am, but council workers like to treat that as a rough guideline rather than the contractual obligation that it is.
I'm a senior planning officer: it's my job to inspect buildings, grant planning approval and to guide members of the public looking to alter their homes.
Our department has 60 employees and - until last Tuesday - a budget of £22million.
I've been there for two years and in that period the only time I've ever seen every employee present and correct was at the Christmas party.
At least ten people will be off sick on any one day. The departmental record holder is Doreen - she has worked a grand total of eight days in 14 months.
Doreen must be the unluckiest woman in the country.
In the past year and a half she claims she has: fallen victim to frostbite; been hit by a car; and accidentally set herself on fire.
But she's really pulled out all the stops with her latest excuse: witchcraft. That's right, Doreen believes somebody in Nigeria has cast a spell on her and that it would be unprofessional of her to attempt to do the job she is paid £56k a year for while under the influence of the spell.
She has already been off for four months on full pay. I've no idea how long this spell lasts, but my guessing would be six months to the day - the exact amount of time council employees can take off on full pay before their money is reduced.
But having just eight weeks of full pay left won't be a problem for Doreen and the rest of the council's sickly staff - they'll simply return to work when the six months is up, put in a day or two's work and then go off sick for another six months on full pay again. Easy.
Of course they have to provide sick-notes from a doctor, but as you can buy fake ones online for £10 it's never proved a problem.
There are procedures in place to address attendance, but nobody ever follows them through - chances are the person whose job it is to monitor sickness is probably signed off himself.
Some human resources managers, usually new to the job, do try to take action - but it mostly backfires.
All credit to the bright-eyed young HR manager who, last year, wanted to dismiss a senior employee who had been off sick for three months.
The employee had still been using his company mobile phone, from Marbella.
However, the employee was able (with a little help from the mighty Unison union) to argue that there's no reason why 'sick' people can't rent villas in the Costa Del Sol.
I've been told by colleagues that I don't take enough sick leave - when I protest that it is because I'm in good health they look confused. What's that got to do with anything?
At my borough a worker can take two weeks before having to produce a doctor's note (fake or not).
With the five weeks' annual leave plus bank holidays, even the most conscientious worker in my department is easily taking 12 weeks a year off.
To add insult to injury, some London boroughs recently introduced a new scheme whereby anybody who did an extra 15 minutes' work a day for 20 days could take an extra day's holiday.
But when you can so easily take six months off, who needs official holidays?
Back to the day's business. Jerry is the next to arrive at 10.25am - before he takes his jacket off he performs his morning ritual of taking both his phones off the hook.
God forbid that any resident and council tax payer should be able to speak to him and get some of the advice he's paid £64k a year to dispense.
Jerry is 63 and two years from retirement. He is what is known in the civil service and local government as an 'untouchable' - he's been at the council for more than 40 years, does no work, but would cost an absolute fortune to get rid of.
So he's left alone to play online poker, Skype his daughter in Florida and take his two-hour daily snooze at his desk, no doubt dreaming of the day when his gold-plated public sector pension will kick in.
If you think Jerry's pay is generous, consider this: the head of my department is on an annual salary of £170k plus bonuses, his deputy nets £99k and even the office PAs are on a very respectable £38k - just two thousand less than I get.
I listen to my answerphone and, as usual, there are about 20 messages from people trying to report faulty streetlights or complain that their rubbish hasn't been collected - calls that have been misdirected by our useless call centre.
When I first started here at the council, I tried to pass these messages on to the right department, but eventually gave up - nobody answers phones, nobody listens to voicemails, and emails go unread.
There's no point showing any initiative. I once wandered down to the 'Streetcare' department to ask why the hell nobody was answering the phone.
But only two staff had turned up that day and they were both in the prayer room. Yes, you read that correctly, all large council offices now provide prayer rooms, primarily for their Muslim employees whose faith requires them to perform devotional prayers at midday, in the afternoon and at sunset.
Although it's two years since I started working for this authority I've also worked for two other London boroughs in various capacities over a period of 12 years. In that time I've never known anybody be sacked, no matter how inept and unprofessional they may be.
I'm not sure what it takes to get fired in local government. I'd say 'murdering the CEO' but, even then, you're more likely to be sent on an 'anger in the workplace' course.
Councils love their workshops, training courses and seminars. This week alone I've been invited to attend: A cycle hire and efficiency course; a traffic and pollution briefing; and a training course on offsite health and safety.
Next week there is a two-day course on 'letter writing skills' - I dearly hope that Jackie, our departmental PA, will attend this one. I've given up using her and now type my own correspondence and reports.
The last time she typed a letter for me (to an architect) she misspelt 'accommodation' and 'environment' throughout.
I gently pointed this out to her and asked her to redo the document. But she went sick for two weeks with stress, complaining that she was being bullied.
When my boss called me in to discuss this I, jokingly, said: 'Well I'll just let her misspell everything in future, shall I?' To which he replied: 'Yes, I think that's best for now.'
I'm not sure what workshop I was asked to attend for that particular misdemeanour, but I do recall the 'cultural awareness and sensitivity' one following an incident where I outrageously asked a black colleague if I could open a window behind her desk.
It was 88 degrees outside and our offices have no air conditioning. This lady was born and bred in North London but claimed her Caribbean heritage meant she felt the cold and opening a window by six inches would cause her to suffer.
I did the workshop and wrote her a letter of apology as recommended. I actually began to question whether I was racist or insensitive.
That evening I saw Sean, my oldest friend who is black. I ran the window story by him - he eventually stopped laughing after about 20 minutes.
You can't be made to attend these workshops but, surprisingly, the take-up is remarkably high.
Not because those going want to improve their skills, but because a full day's training comes with a full day's free catering.
' Fact Finding Missions' are another great favourite within the public sector. The last one I attended was a two-day trip ( transport and four-star accommodation included) to a football club in the Midlands.
Supposedly it was to understand how other inner cities tackle sporting events in areas of high population.
However, the only 'fact' I discovered was that it takes about 11 pints and two whisky chasers before my boss keels over.
In fairness, there are some very hard workers at the council, but they are so massively outweighed by the workshy that they're fighting a losing battle. The culture is very much one of getting minimum done for maximum pay.
Even when a reasonable proportion of the staff turns up for work (for our office that would be about 60 per cent) very little gets done because the officers cannot be bothered with the fiddly paperwork that goes with the job.
When residents contact the office because they want, for example, a loft extension or to replace windows in a conservation area, they hit such a wall of inefficiency and apathy that many simply give up or go ahead without permission.
I recently received a letter from somebody looking for the plans to a building that was erected ten years ago.
I passed it on to Jackie the ever-efficient PA, who claimed she couldn't find them. I went to look and located them in 30 seconds.
The only time the department ever really jumps into action is when architects complain.
They know planning inside out and won't be fobbed off with delaying tactics that ordinary citizens have to contend with.
You can't even give them the old council favourite of claiming that you can't answer any of their questions because of 'data protection'. We love that excuse - nobody really knows what it means, but we use it all the time.
Bosses of local authorities have bonuses dependent on not getting high numbers of complaints.
But the only way complaints can be recorded is if they are dealt with - if they're ignored or mysteriously lost then they never existed and won't be counted.
Despite all this, my department makes a huge amount of money - mostly from private developers. If they want to build something it costs them £2,300 just to have an initial planning meeting with us. W
hat they don't know is that we've already had a meeting and decided they probably won't get permission - unless they agree to a 'planning gain' - a dodgy but perfectly legal practice whereby a developer who wants to build, say, a hotel, will be told that he can have his planning permission, but only if he also agrees to build a community centre too.
It's a way for councils to improve local amenities, without having to pay for them from public funds.
Some might call it bribery. For us, it's everyday business that ensures our budgets are protected for our vital work - like protecting our pay rises and perks.
So can anything be done to curtail this greed, waste and chronic incompetence?
George Osborne clearly thinks so, with his bold promises to tackle the bloated public sector head-on.
We had a meeting on Thursday to discuss the Chancellor's proposed cuts - there was talk of strike action among the younger workers, but much rubbing of hands among the 'untouchables', many of whom could walk away with six-figure golden goodbyes.
The cuts and pay freezes are desperately needed, but the one thing Mr Osborne will never be able to control is the culture of inertia and inefficiency that is rife throughout the public sector.
Of course, when I tell my friends in the private sector about my working conditions, they can scarcely believe it.
As the recession bites, they consider themselves lucky to be holding on to their jobs, and are willing to work extra hours or take a pay freeze to ensure their firm's survival.
In the public sector, though, there is no competitive edge; no incentive to cuts costs or improve efficiency. Few genuinely fear for their job security, protected as they are by threats of union action every time the axe looks likely to fall.
It's the same story across the world: when a nation's public sector is allowed to expand into a bloated behemoth, it is almost impossible to cut it down to size, still less to change the culture of waste and laziness that sets in.
I don't know what the solution is. Even those, like myself, who join with the best of intentions are soon worn down and end up subscribing to the 'if you can't beat them, join them' school of thought.
Of course the real scandal is it's your money that's paying for the jollies, the prayer rooms and the never- ending workshops.
In my authority's borough, the average householder pays £1,330 a year in council tax. I'm sure they'd be thrilled to know that they're funding Jerry's internet gambling and Doreen's never-ending sick pay.
Good luck Mr Osborne - you're going to need it.
Footnote: Just out of interest I thought I'd list the inner London boroughs...
Footnote: Just out of interest I thought I'd list the inner London boroughs...
- Hammersmith and Fulham
- Kensington and Chelsea
- Tower Hamlets