READING gas and electricity meters shouldn’t be the most difficult task in the world to organize – until utilities managers get involved.
A meter reader has just been and gone, saying that his managers now expect him to read 60 meters an hour.
Despite protestations and invitations none, he said, would come out with him for a day to see for themselves how difficult that is.
Firstly, this is an area near a major university. This is also the week before Easter, so nearly every student has fled home, if only to save money because their parents will pay for their food, if not alcohol, for a few days.
Gaining entry to properties occupied by students either means getting there before lectures start in a morning or hitting an evening ‘window’ before the occupants head out
Alternatively, there’s the once-a-year-day when panic revision sets in, usually a week or so before exams start.
So, for every door that’s answered, there are probably at least 10, if not 20, that remain shut.
Rather than try, unsuccessfully and wastefully, to read meters every quarter, the utility companies could more efficiently blitz student areas during those few days each year to get the information they need.
Secondly, sending meter readers round during the working day adds to the number of doors that remain shut.
In this street of about 50 houses, probably fewer than 10 are occupied throughout normal office hours during the university vacations. That represent an awful lot of standing, waiting on doorsteps for every meter reader – and a really productive use of their time.
Creating such jobs as social policy and as a means to control unemployment has long been seen as the realm of the Marxist. If the private sector and market forces are so wonderful and so efficient, why are they so amazingly proficient at being so stupidly inefficient?
Thirdly, in terraces of four-storey Victorian homes, getting from a top-floor room to answer the front door can take three or four minutes, that’s if anyone is awake. The meter reader has to wait.
If the meters are new, and easily accessible, getting to them and reading them usually requires at least one flight of stairs. In older properties, where meters could be hidden in cupboards under the stairs, gaining access could take five, if not 10, minutes.
Such ignorance undermines managers. It invites ridicule from customers as well as staff. Credibility, once lost, is rarely regained. Salaries of £50,000 a year become contemptible. The initials MBA come to mean ‘makes a bloody arse’ of it, whatever the task.
Utility companies are reputed to be good, steady investments. If they produce such excellent returns from such dire performance, just think what could happen if someone competent actually took charge.
As for the meter reader, he’s just pleased it’s Easter and it’s not raining. Even someone with an MBA can’t change those. Well, at least not too quickly ….