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The glue that greases the wheels of progress.

Many classic books have been written about the absurdity of bureaucracy – some of them funny, like Joseph Heller’s masterpiece "Catch-22", some of it not so funny. Franz Kafka, for example, was not noted for his slapstick sense of humour.

And so facing a slight piece of absurdity this morning as I return from a splendid week’s holiday, I am able to laugh about it. For the minute at least.

The genius and thus much-over quoted Oscar Wilde as usual had it right when he wrote: “Bureaucracy expands to meet the needs of expanding bureaucracy.” Bureaucracy resized

I will explain.

I am freelance. My business has a couple of themes around it but it is a pretty typical 21st century one-man band business. I am a writer, a planner and a consultant. All of these things I can do because I have skills acquired from many years of experience.

This is why I like being self-employed. No-one to answer to except my clients, no-one to insist I attend futile meetings and people generally take my advice because they pay for it. I am a limited company because it is more efficient that way because of the slightly eclectic nature of my game.

Also, on a hot day I can sit in my office at the top of the stairs in my shorts watching the Test Match while I work and there’s no-one to tell me I am being ‘inappropriate’, ‘not team-focussed’ or questioning whether this is part of my ‘core competence’.

These are little qualities of life that make running your own business really worth-while. Running your own life, being free to pick your kids up from school or lunching with a friend. I don’t make any thing like the money I used to make and if I am ill, tough luck, and I have no-one to whom to delegate. But I don’t care.

Of course I also have to make provision for my own retirement. I have known this for some time – because I am 47 years old – and so I do.

But now, apparently, according to a not-very instructive but rather sinister letter from the Pensions Regulator I have less than two weeks to set up an auto-enrolled workplace pension scheme. ACT NOW! It says. I must nominate the appropriate member of staff by 31 July or be in breach of my duties.

Presumably the penalties for non-compliance are both fiscally and human-resource draining yet the penalty for complying, it seems, would be fiscally and human-resource draining.

So I try to phone them to explain my position. I don’t have any employees, neither do I have any intention of hiring any and as the sole director I have long had my own pension provision.

No phone number on the letter. So I email the published ‘support’ email address. The automatic reply I get says: “Thank you for your message/query. Someone will come back to you within 10 working days.” i.e. by August 3.

How’s that for a Catch-22?

By Steve McDowell

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