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Stick your crazy pounds 7m black tape.

Byline: By Ross Smith

The Government was last night accused of spending more than pounds 7m of taxpayers' money on consultants to tell North-East civil servants how to tidy their desks.

Workers at Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs at the Longbenton complex, in North Tyneside, are having their desks marked with tape to indicate where their office equipment should be placed.

The exercise, which involves markers for items including computer keyboards, telephones and stationery, is designed to improve efficiency by making desks neater.

However, one worker last night described the system, being implemented by logistics company Unipart, as "demeaning".

Longbenton has been selected as a pilot site for the introduction of working practices known as "Lean". HMRC says the system ( which was first used in Toyota car plants ( is about improving team performance.

A spokesman said: "Part of Lean processing is to clear the workplace and only keep essential items to hand.

"This is in line with the workstation ergonomics training that all of our staff receive and complies with the display screen equipment regulations (2002).

"The markers on desks are used to demonstrate that it is much better to work in a tidy work environment where everything has its

place. Staff involved have confirmed they prefer the tidier workspace."

Lean has already been brought into a number of sections of the HMRC offices, and is being rolled out around the site.

The department refused to say how much Unipart is being paid to introduce the system. However, the Public and Commercial Services union estimates more than pounds 7.4m has been spent on consultants over Lean.

One Longbenton worker told The Journal yesterday: "Telling people where they should place their telephones is demeaning.

"It's ridiculous that millions of pounds of public money is being spent on this when staff are quite capable of deciding for themselves how their own desks should be organised."

PCS branch secretary Kevin McHugh said: "They come in and say how should have your phone, rubber, stapler and so on. They work out what's best so you don't have to stretch too far for them.

"They're trying to turn people into robots. But the whole thing falls down because in certain areas of HMRC at Longbenton, we have hot desking, where different shifts come in and use the same desks.

"If the person coming in after you has slightly shorter arms, then the markers will be in the wrong place.

"Marking the desks tends to get members upset sometimes when they've got personal photographs on their desks and they have to move them around.

"But to tell you the truth, once Lean moves on to the next office people tend to ignore it."

PCS members in HMRC centres across the country took strike action last July as the Lean system ( which the union claimed leads to "de-skilling" of civil service work ( began to be introduced. A further work to rule protest followed in October.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jan 4, 2007
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