It’s difficult to say exactly who the public servants are who never clock out of the office even a minute after their appointed time, but what’s certain is that there are lots of them. And event organizers are always at risk of coming across one or more of them. Here’s a story as just one example.

In April this year, one of my long-time clients (an international group working in several sectors, and in this case in ceramics) decided to organize an event for its foreign customers. The location we chose was a small but magnificent medieval town, one of Italy’s fifty most beautiful, and above all its castle, publicly owned and therefore under the responsibility of the local archaeological heritage directorate.

Part one: requests

The event was scheduled for Monday 24 September, with about 200 guests for an aperitif and dinner. In April we asked the directorate offices (with repeated phone calls and e-mails) the possibility of using the castle, and a month later they gave us their written approval. But in June our troubles began in earnest, with slumbering switchboard operators, contact persons nowhere to be found, a mysterious superintendent who handles requests as if he a relatively modest sum and just three hours of use became a colossal task, because none of our usual banks would even consider our request. And so another month passed, but in the end we found our guarantee.

Part two: money

Given our commitment to social sustainability, we rightly try to use a majority of local staff and artists wherever possible, and we outsource our catering services to local restaurants. A Monday evening in late summer certainly seemed to be an interesting opportunity for the town in economic terms, as well as being an excellent international showcase. In this we had the strong support of the local council and the tourist committee, both of which complained of the “tyranny” of the castle custodians and the directorate over the town.

We did everything asked of us, but the signed contract was delivered to us only at the start of September. And from then on, the requests of the directorate increased with almost every day that passed, and they all had the common denominator of… money! For just two hours of event in the castle, plus two hours for setting up and one for clearing up afterwards, we were asked not only for a hire fee (and not too low), but also for a sum equivalent to the entry tickets for every one of the 200 participants and for every member of our staff, a quota for the value of a guide for every person, and the cost of five custodians for eight hours.

Leaving aside all this money and the “tyranny” and even rudeness of our dealings with the directorate, what most offends me is the absolutely despotic handling of the whole affair by bureaucrats. Or in other words, if you want to make me pay for even the air we’ll be breathing, then what I’d like is to be given an accurate and exhaustive reply when I first ask for the availability of certain spaces; to be sent a contract if not immediately then at least in sufficient time to allow me to do my job without worrying unnecessarily, also considering that I’m paying quite a high price for the service; and for you to be polite to me and to understand that this castle belongs to the public and that all the wages involved are paid by the public, to which I also happen to belong. Is this asking too much? Or given how things stand nowadays, should bureaucrats perhaps try to use a bit more common courtesy in their work?

Sadly there are far too many cases like mine, and I imagine that like me, many other colleagues will have spent incredibly exasperating months struggling with invisible bureaucrats who give you information – one precious drop at a time – only in the morning from 11 am to 1 pm (they never answer earlier), and that every time they do, they raise the stakes yet again, with the threat, only slightly veiled, of denying you the use of your chosen location unless you always accept their demands. And what can you do? Who do you take your complaint to?

Site Italy intends to start a collection of negative experiences like this one, with the commitment to publish them and to take phonecalls from readers willing to blow whistles and name names. We think it’s important to work together as a team on this and to help each other, whether members or not.

Article published on Meeting & Congressi – October 2012