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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Just over ten years ago, an extremely insightful book about the French was published; "On The Brink", by Jonathan Fenby. For a shrewd look into the intricate depths of the French psyche, it's right up there with the best works of its kind.

More than a decade on, how have things changed since Fenby's appreciation? Now and again I'll post an extract from his book - on this occasion on the subject of France's civil servants. So with all the promises from first Chirac, and now Sarkozy, has anything changed? Hmm...

"This state which cannot accept that any part of national life is beyond its reach is by far the biggest employer in the country. Its civil servants make up a quarter of the workforce - compared to 14-15 per cent in Britain and Germany. Their salaries take up almost one-sixth of the national income. As for the general belief that selfless civil servants are less well-paid than their peers in the private sector, an independent study in 1994 showed the reverse to be true in non-executive jobs. Despite the declining numbers of farmers, the Agricultural Ministry still employs as many functionaries as it did a decade ago. Long after the last big war, the Ex-Servicemen's Ministry costs 4 billion euros* a year. Reform of other sectors of national life may be on the agenda, but not the sacred caste of the functionaries of the state. Whereas public-sector companies have been put under the spotlight, readied for privatisation or gone through painful slimming cures, the state has left its great administrative army alone. One investigation suggested that the number of hidden civil service scandals might exceed those that had come to light elsewhere - but no investigating magistrates have stuck their noses into the inner workings of the nation's administrative machinery. A list of white elephants spawned by bureaucratic incompetence drawn up by the magazine Le Point contained some of the following gems: the 130 million-euro high-speed train station at Lyon airport that handles only 500 passengers a day; the railway construction in Normandy where a new platform was built 300 metres away from the station; a 11 million-euro museum in Nice which was still empty ten years after being commissioned; a projected road tunnel in Toulon which collapsed and was abandoned after 200 million euros had been spent on it; a planned conference centre in Paris which remained unbuilt despite the expenditure of 120 million euros; and a road bridge in Normandy with no road connected to it. No heads have rolled, or not to the knowledge of the taxpayer who footed the bill in each case. From teachers to mandarins, the civil service is unaccountable to anybody except itself. A damning report by an Inspecteur des Finances who had been close to the Socialists spoke of a looming disaster caused by the failure of successive governments to get to grips with the size and cost of the public-service sector."
Fenby will have penned that some twelve or thirteen years ago. My impression is that hardly anything has changed for the better. Occasionally we hear of the wrong sort of civil servant being targeted - limiting the supply of new teachers for example, increasing class sizes. But the red tape functionaries, ie not the front line teachers and nurses, seem as ever to escape unscathed.

*francs - in the original edition - I've converted to approx. equivalent in euros
 

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Hi,
As always, imaginary. The size and cost and waste overmanning and duplication and, with some few exceptions,the general complacent uselessness of the french public services is the dirty secret created and to a large extent hidden by successive governments of all political colours (which in France ranges from light pink to dark pink).
Try getting a TRUE figure for the numbers employed in all aspects of french public services on google. The figures are well and truly camouflaged by omitting hundreds of thousands of quasi-fonctionnaires employed by various "quangos " ,financed wholly or partially by the tax-payer.
The only near truthful answer I could find was on the site of the independant"watchdog" think tank IFRAP. Google "effectifs fonction publique " on their site.
 

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Blogger, Thanks for bringing the topic.

The national civil service is slightly decreasing due to non-replacement of pensioners policy, some internal transfer to other civil services (read below) and drastic internal reviews. But that does not decrease the overall number of civil servants, neither does it increase the service delivery and they are many reasons

- apart from National civil service (teacher, policeman, customs, ...), they are 2 other civil service corps : one is public health workers, and the second is "Collectivites territoriales" (region, department and commune staff). Moreover they are some affiliated status of civil service in a good number of state owned enterprises, typically La Poste (their status is evolving but not the status of employee previously employed, due to statutes of limitation of the Law).

- while the National service has decreased since the nineties, in the contrary, the number of "fonctionnaire territorial" (region, department, and communes) has exponentially increased, originally due to the state mission's devolution to the local assemblies such as Education Administration, health and welfare, roads and civil engineering, forestry, archives and even security. Typically, official archives were centrally managed by Paris before and have long ago been allocated to Departements, who are now in charge. Here is the trick, as these local assemblies are highly politicised (why not? But only concentrated in the hands of the 2 main parties which are UMP or PS) they tend to recruit a lot of friends. They are countless staff in communes and Conseil General or Conseil Regional. Shortly after the elections, staffing usually increases, while it is almost impossible to get rid of previously recruited staff. And why would it be so? They are made redundant by the new politicised recruitment, and maybe not by their delivery standards. In Var for instance, the office Public d'HLM (public service allocating subsidised accommodation to the needy), staff number increased of 83% shortly after a new Director was appointed. It was not believed in this later case, that new appointments were political 'though, but sort of nepotism rather.

- the civil service reform is politically heavy to manage: how would a Prime Minister or a President decrease the overall staffing of civil servants, while they keep increasing the number of civil servants in their own service in Paris? The current president has doubled the security staffing for his own personal security the very week he took office, numbers of Minister's advisers have also increased to vary large extent. The Prime Minister office who is also in charge of Government's communication is no exception. But in remote France, the population has noticed the decreasing number and the delivery standards of the civil service: gendarmeries have been regrouped or relocated, and insecurity has increased in the zones were before Gendarmes use to patrolling, due a sudden vacuum of State functions. Hospitals have been regrouped or "reinforced" on core functions: emergencies here, heart surgery there, ambulatory treatments somewhere else, in the name of improving quality. Unfortunately the underprivileged: single mothers, elderly and children suffer form this most. This can be applied to Justice and judiciary services (which are the poorest in European standards) even before the restructuring.

- Some other services where uniquely divided in 3 or more agencies in charge of similar topics with little cooperation and poor results, typically employment where Assedic is in charge of employment benefits, Unedic in charge of employment taxes collections, and ANPE in charge of managing availability of employees on the labor market. French treasury collect the taxes but it is CDI (Impots) which calculates your bill. Overlapping functions or excessive division of labor has cost billions of Euros to the tax payer.


Finally the overall systems is contrasted indeed: the good, the bad and the ugly. No Government in the last 30 years (decentralisation Law was 1982) has ever addressed the issue of excessive staffing in the Fonction Publique Territoriale because it is a highly political topic and they would not like to shoot themselves in the foot. It is appalling and tragic to see how narrow minded the Political class is in France, with all due respect. Some say the Financial crisis did not hit so hard on France due to its good social protection system, probably true (remains to be documented). But the next crisis will be hard and it will be caused by long term carelessness and inability to adjust public service delivery to the needs of the people, rather than sticking to political dogma.
 
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