IT’S a common complaint of modern life, but rarely does someone in such an exalted position admit to being a sufferer.
However Scotland’s most senior civil servant has become the latest self-confessed victim of information overload, admitting he can’t “keep up at all” with the work of the SNP government.
Permanent Secretary Sir Peter Housden said it was “completely random” what he read, that he failed to read some things at all, and that he had stacks of unwatched work-related DVDs.There were also “masses of very important websites” he’d never managed to browse.
Sir Peter, who is on a £180,000 salary as Alex Salmond’s top mandarin, laughed as he disclosed the problem in a Q&A session with NHS managers in November, a video of which is now online.
The Sunday Herald revealed last month that Sir Peter had criticised the UK Coalition’s health reforms as part of the same event, claiming Tory Health Secretary Andrew Lansley “could not persuade anyone” about the “enormously risky” premise of the reforms: having GPs commission patient care.
|Housden: "It's completely random"|
Sir Peter replied: “There is that sort of massive profusion of stuff, and I don’t manage to keep up at all.
“It’s hopeless, isn’t it?
“It’s completely random what I get interested in and read and know about.
“There are masses and masses of very important websites that I’ve never been anywhere near, and nor am I likely to.
“People send me things, and I send them things. I read some of them and I don’t read others.
"I’ve got more DVDs that I haven’t watched than I know what to do with, you know.
“Shocking - the permanent secretary doesn’t know.”
Labour last night branded Sir Peter “a buffoon”.
A spokesman said: “These are very peculiar comments. If the permanent secretary admits he doesn’t know how to communicate government policy, that is deeply concerning. He should spend less time worrying about his DVD collection and more about the 400 women a day losing their jobs.”
Tory MSP Murdo Fraser added: “Ten out of ten to the Permanent Secretary for honesty. However we do rely on the head of the civil service in Scotland to have a reasonable understanding of the work of government.”
Housden, 61, has suffered a string of gaffes since taking up his current post in June 2010.He was widely lampooned last year when his cheesy newsletters to staff were released under Freedom of Information, revealing a love of shopping, pop music, theatre and housekeeping.
“We had to pay £28 for a snow shovel,” he moaned to workers on a two-year pay freeze.
His love of management-speak also featured in the NHS seminar, when he talked about civil servants working in “the improvement space”.
|Gregory's Girl: as good as it got?|
He said Hassan told him post-war optimism in Scotland had “reached its peak, the brave new world, with the film of Gregory’s Girl”.
In another odd moment, Housden, who likes to see front line staff at work, recalled going out with a solo ambulance driver to a flat where a woman had “dislocated her hip in a horrible way”.
Praising the driver as a “really empowered person” who coped with noise and stress “in real time”, Sir Peter revealed he had been dragged into the case when the woman’s father fainted.
“So I had to sort of tend to him, while this bloke was doing the other,” he said, to more laughter. All of this was just brilliantly done.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Permanent Secretary was making an important point about information overload, an issue that is common in many walks of life. He was urging delegates to concentrate on what matters”