A few months ago I wrote a post called ‘Why I Am Saying No To Some Universities’ in which I demonstrated that universities are wealthy organisations and explained that, therefore, I was not prepared to work them for free.
This week I got an email from a UK Government department, from a civil servant who had been at the creative research methods conference last May where my most recent book was launched. The email, and my thought processes as I read it, went like this:
Email: That conference was great
Me: It was, wasn’t it?
Email: As a result, I bought your book
Me: I think I love you
Email: I’m a researcher in the UK government
Email: We have a cross-departmental group looking at creative research methods
Me: That’s interesting, and new information for me
Email: I’m very enthusiastic about this, and my colleagues would like to meet you
Me: Yay! This sounds exciting!
Email: And perhaps you could speak at one of our seminars
Me: Woo-hoo! That would be great!
Email: Though we don’t really have a budget
Me: Uh-oh, I might be falling out of love…
Email: But could you come anyway?
Me: I very much want to, but… I don’t think so.
Email: We can reimburse travel expenses
Me: Oh Here We Go Again *grinds teeth with rage*
The meeting is, of course, in London. With travel time, it takes me a whole day to go to a meeting in London. So the UK Government are asking me to write off a whole working day in exchange for… well, nothing. No pay. Nada. Zilch. And their offer of reimbursing my travel expenses is somehow supposed to make that OK.
This is the Government that allegedly supports small businesses. The coalition trumpeted their support for small businesses in the UK, and for micro-businesses like mine, though the relevant web pages now have big banners on saying that they were published under the coalition government. But I wouldn’t expect the Tories to backtrack on coalition commitments to small businesses. Indeed, the 2015 Conservative manifesto included a pledge to increase the percentage of Government funds spent with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) from one-quarter of goods and services to one-third. Yet now, it seems, they’re asking at least some micro-businesses to provide services to the Government for nothing. How does that constitute support? And how will that help the Government achieve their stated aim of spending more with SMEs?
I’ve discovered that it’s harder to say no to the Government than to universities. This is partly because there are lots of universities and only one Government. It’s also because, well, it feels a bit scary. I know we live in a kind of a democracy with fairly free speech most of the time. Particularly as I’m a native Brit, I don’t think anyone is likely to knock on my door in the night and drag me off to a bunker somewhere for a serious telling-off. But it is… y’know… the Government. The people with the power. There’s a bit of me that thinks I should have rolled over, said yes, at least it would have looked good on my CV. And that, if I’m not going to say yes, I should at least keep quiet, not speak out.
But really, that raises a question I’ve asked my clients more than once when they’ve wanted to suppress some research findings they thought might be politically unpopular. Should we work for our Government? Or should our Government work for us?
I really would like to contribute to their creative research methods group, and I think it’s fair to say that, right now, I may be the person in the country who is best placed to provide support to that group. But I think, I believe, that our Government should work for us, and not the other way around. So, with a heavy heart, I am saying no to the UK Government.
***Update: a few minutes after publishing the above post, I got another email saying oops, sorry, we can’t even pay travel expenses. ***