Here’s an exasperating tale of English paperwork for you – it’s probably the “best” way known of stopping honest and professional work from getting done …
A church recently suffered slight damage to six pieces of painted stained glass. That’s six (6) pieces.
Yes, the building is prestigious, but the broken glass is simple to repair.
A reputable studio (not us, but a studio we respect) was asked to give a quote. Note: a reputable studio.
The owner duly drove 60 miles to the church. He spent a good hour inspecting the damage. And then he drove 60 miles home.
Back at his studio, he spent a further half-day writing a two-page report, concluding with the price – something under £1000 / $1500 for the repairs.
As I said, slight damage, easy to repair, and a free quote from a reputable studio.
Enter officialdom …
Next thing, a church official decided to approach the “restoration council” for financial help with the cost.
And the official submitted the studio’s report for the council’s attention.
Next thing, someone at the council drafted a rude reply, insisting that the two-page report was inadequate.
The official also attached was an 8-page document on how to report on damaged stained glass windows – on which, more later …
Now, I have seen the letter from council’s official to the church.
It is very, very offensive to the studio owner who, as I say, is a respected professional in our field.
The studio owner is also trustworthy. He has many years of honest, hard-working, hands-on experience. So, understandably, the studio owner decided: “That’s enough for me”.
Well, wouldn’t you say the same? 20 years’ experience in the field, a recognized authority, a reputable studio, a free report and quote: why bother?
What happened next …
So that studio opted out. The church’s architect then approached us, and sent us all the previous correspondence:
Would we care to visit and quote?” he asked.
Ummm – “No, thank you”.
You see, if we had chosen to comply with the 8-page document from the council official, the clients’ costs would have more than doubled.
And we are anyway accredited to a respected conservation body which means we have to document our actions. If we don’t do a good job we will lose our accreditation. It’s as simple as that.
Also, we have enough work for the next two years – almost too much – not to wish to waste time on wholly unnecessary and irresponsible documentation.
One requirement (amongst 30 or so in this 8-page document) is for a full “ethical” analysis on the pros and cons of the chosen method of intervention.
Just exactly what are the “ethical” criteria here?
I have a D.Phil. (i.e. a doctorate) from the University of Oxford (which is a moderately adequate university – high standards and all that kind of unfashionable, old-fashioned thing). And I will bet you that nowhere in the Bodleian Library is there a book that might help us here.
“Ethical”? Really? “Ethical” – I don’t think so. I don’t think so at all.
The end of the affair
So what next?
We said, Sorry, this is a complete waste of the church’s money – we can’t – no, we won’t help.
So the architect’s remaining formal option is to find a studio with time on its hands to do necessary pre-intervention documentation. Oh yes, and the ethical analysis as well.
I’d love to read it. (Not!)
And don’t ask: if the architect finds such a studio, why would it have time on its hands?
Also don’t ask: why is any studio prepared to more than double the client’s cost merely to satisfy a pen-pushing official who has, I insist, no practical talent in this field? (A minor academic talent, perhaps; a practical talent, definitely not.)
The world has gone mad.
A £900 job has been inflated to well over £2000.
And that doesn’t include the extra fees the architect must also charge.
Oh silly me: the pen-pusher is kept busy – how could I forget the most important thing of all?
Indeed, the less money the council distributes – e.g. because the restorers’ reports rarely meet the required standard – then the more money which is left over for “internal running costs” at the council.
Imagine if we ran our studio in such a way that “preliminary” design costs always consumed the greatest part of the client’s budget …
What a nice, quiet, easy life we’d have. True, clients would rarely get their windows. But that, we’d insist, is just a quibble, a minor point entirely.
And also look at this: it is prudent of me not to identify the council. They would probably try to sue us. They wouldn’t win since all of this is true. But our defence would consume so much time and paper) that we wouldn’t get any work done.
I start to wonder, Is this the real purpose for the council’s existence? Has it, I wonder, gone over to the Dark Side?
And I am just so sorry about the wasted money – money which real lovers of stained glass bequeathed to the council in their last Will and Testament.
Would they have done this if they had seen their money just keep pen-pushers and paper-shufflers in employment?
Was it their dying wish that repairs – minor repairs like this – should actually be stopped?
Paper-shufflers, go get a proper job and stop preventing skilled people from doing the craft they spent their whole life learning!
Wretched miserable paper-shufflers and miserly dispensers of other peoples’ money: hang your heads in shame and leave quietly before the country is completely ruined.
P.S. We’ve had a quiet word with the architect and suggested he might let this all blow over then call us back in a year or so. We’ll still be flat out on our current projects but it doesn’t seem right that bureaucracy should stand in the way of craft.
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