‘I will be clapping for civil servants tonight too’: Garry Graham on the vital work of officials

NHS staff deserve our support on the frontline of the battle against coronavirus, but they are supported by an unseen army of dedicated people. Let’s think of them tonight too, says Prospect’s Garry Graham

Prime minister Boris Johnson applauding NHS workers last week Photo: PA

By Garry Graham

02 Apr 2020

In the past two weeks I have seen the strong feel vulnerable and the vulnerable be strong. I have seen those saying we have had enough of experts defer to experts at this time of crisis. I have seen those who have questioned whether there is such a thing as society call for us all to band together in common endeavour. I have seen people standing in front of their houses applauding our NHS and public sector workers. I have seen Prospect and other trade unions shaping government policy in the interests of the common good.

I do not profess to know what long term impact this will have. I hope we will remember that we are stronger and better when we act together. I hope we will remember solidarity is better than suspicion. I hope we will remember those who give their all to look after us and I hope we remember we looked after ourselves by looking out for each other.

Like many others on Thursday I stood outside my home and clapped those at the very frontline of dealing with the coronavirus outbreak – the nurses, doctors and other medical staff to whom we owe so much. While I am clapping again today I will also, as I was last week, be thinking of and applauding those other public servants, and indeed other workers, who are keeping our country running at this time.


Delivery drivers, cleaners, shop workers, volunteers, energy workers, telecoms workers, lab workers, vehicle inspectors, traffic officers, and many more deserve our gratitude but I want to focus on those in the civil service and related agencies. These are the public workers who tend to go unnoticed and unappreciated but their work is no less important for all that.

There are any number of functions that are vital to our country continuing to operate in the midst of this crisis. Many of those can be performed working from home and on the whole departments have been very good at making provision for this kind of working. The work you never know is happening continues to happen and we are grateful for it. There are perhaps lessons that can be learned here in terms of the level of flexibility the civil service should and could offer as a matter of course once this is all over. Prospect will keeping an eye on this very closely.

There are however a lot of key roles that mean Prospect members in the civil service are still required to go out to work, increasing the risk to themselves so they can perform necessary functions. Administrators, lab workers and managers in Public Health England are working round the clock to improve testing capacity and manage the logistics of an epidemic of this scale.  Despite the decline in road traffic the roads still need to be kept clear – our traffic officers ensure that happens. Ambulances and other emergency vehicles have to be roadworthy – it is Prospect members in DVSA who ensure they are properly tested and accredited so that our ambulances can keep running. Workers at the MHRA will be testing all the new ventilators and testing kits when they come on stream – without that they can’t be used.

These are just a few of the important roles workers in the civil service and associated agencies are carrying out in the middle of this crisis. But it is not just through their normal employment that they are making a difference. For example 800 workers at the Centre For Health And Disability Assessments, who are largely former NHS staff, have volunteered and will be helping directly with the NHS’s efforts in dealing with the virus. Lab workers at the Animal and Plant Health Agency are in talks to move over to the NHS so they can use their skills helping with ramping up the number of tests we can do. Likewise, APHA vets in Scotland will be working with Food Standards Scotland helping them to fill gaps caused by illness and keeping our food chain safe.

It feels unfair to stop having mentioned only a few of the types of thing our members, your public servants, are doing at this time but I could literally list a hundred such examples and not be close to being finished.

This crisis is not one that will end soon but it is being dealt with. Your civil and public servants continue to work, and with the diligence and professionalism we all expect. As a union Prospect are monitoring at all times to make sure they can do that safely and with the proper respect and reward.

The NHS and its workers are the frontline in this battle, but they and the rest of our society are ably and willingly supported and facilitated by a host of unseen and dedicated people. I will be clapping again for our care givers on Thursday, and I will also be clapping for everyone who makes their jobs possible.

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