Post Five – The Amazing Magic Trick

Written by Murdo MacLeod, former Emergency Planning Officer

Dear Convener

Hello – it’s me again. I want to tell you a story – about a magic trick. This particular illusion is known as a ‘transformation’, like when something is changed from one state to another; a blue silk handkerchief turns red, for example. This can be accomplished by the use of physics to create a ‘self working’ event, by the use of sleight of hand to deceive the brain and the eye, or it can be accomplished simply by deception.

In my story you will learn how I as a victim was portrayed as a villain; how Katherine Mackinnon was painted whiter than white and I was painted blacker than black and at the end of my story I will invite yourself (and anyone else who reads my story) to decide whether this ‘transformation’ was effected by the application of physics, sleight of hand, or good old fashioned cheating.

Throughout this document, copies of communications and documents or extracts from me are in BLUE text. My points of emphasis are in bold RED and copies of communications and documents or extracts from others are in VIOLET text.

Since becoming Emergency Planning Officer in 1996, I was first on call for Emergency Planning within Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. I was required to be contactable at all times and I carried a mobile phone and a radio pager even when on leave.

On 29 April 2003, I wrote to my line manager, the Depute Director of Corporate Services, reminding him I have been on call without remuneration since I took up my current post in September 1996, despite the fact that my predecessor was paid the appropriate overtime rate for all duties performed out-of-hours. I requested parity with my opposite number in Shetland in terms of Standby/Callout and overtime payments. I later learned that all the Emergency Planning Officers at The Highland Council are also receiving this allowance. The only exception being the Emergency Planning Manager, who chooses not to be on the callout roster.

On 22 July, I telephoned my manager to enquire about progress. He informed me that he had passed my note to Helen Froud (Director of Corporate Services), who had approved my application and passed it to Human Resources for implementation. He subsequently informed me that he understood that the application had been blocked by Human Resources and copied me with the following correspondence:-

I have been asked by Katherine to refer the following for consideration by you under Single Status. Murdo Macleod, Emergency Planning Officer is on occasions required to make himself available at short notice to co-ordinate emergency services i.e. last weekend the cargo vessel which went aground off the Summer Isles; oil spillage at Barra etc. I am aware that there are other officers who are not on standby but do undertake similar duties and therefore the granting of a Standby Allowance to this post (which would obviously have to go to Committee) might open the flood gates for others. Can you please advise?

To describe my on-call status as “on occasions required to make himself available” is a total misrepresentation of the facts. The phrase “might open the flood gates for others” may give a clue to the issue that the writer was really concerned with.

At a meeting with Helen Froud (now my line manager) on Friday 24th October 2003, I told her that it was my understanding that she had approved my initial claim, but that it had been subsequently blocked by Human Resources. She confirmed that this was the case. Helen undertook to try again to resolve the matter.

I telephoned Helen during the morning of Friday 31 October (the day she went on maternity leave) and asked about the progress of my claim. Helen told me that she was currently dealing with the matter and would contact me in the afternoon. Nothing further was heard from her. I assumed however, that Human Resources were now progressing my claim, but in the event, nothing was heard from HR either.

Donnie Mackenzie, Head of Central Services, was my line manager during my director’s maternity leave. He tried his best to resolve the issue of Standby/Callout/Disturbance payments. He arranged a meeting with Lesley McDonald, Acting Director and he tabled a proposal (agreed with Lesley McDonald) which provided a basis for discussion. The proposal:-

  1. I get paid a one-off honorarium equivalent to one year’s Standby Allowance (circa 3.5k).

  2. I train officers (number yet unspecified) from the Health & Safety Section to a sufficient level of competence in emergency response.

  3. The officers so trained will join me on a Standby/Callout Rota.

  4. A report will go to committee recommending the payment of the Standby & Callout/Disturbance Allowance to ALL of us on the rota.

I met with Lesley McDonald and Donnie Mackenzie at 1200 hours on Friday 23 January 2004, accompanied by Stephen Baillie, my union representative. Lesley advised that a report will go to Human Resources Committee on 05 February, recommending payment of an honorarium to the full amount of the annual allowance for Standby/Callout/Disturbance. This is to be paid before the end of the current financial year.

I advised Lesley that I do not regard having officers from another discipline on-call for Emergency Planning as an acceptable solution. Lesley was reluctant to concede this point, but she undertook to ascertain what arrangements are in force in other authorities.

Lesley agreed to write to me confirming what we had discussed and decided at the meeting and she also undertook to send me a copy of the report to committee.

When I had received nothing by Wednesday 04 February, I rang Donnie Mackenzie and asked him if he’d seen the report. Donnie hadn’t seen it either and when he checked the Committee agenda, he found no reference to the matter. I asked him to find out what is going on and to let me know.

I received the following email from Lesley McDonald on Thursday 05 February:-

Just a short note to update you on the Report to Human Resources. When drafting the Report and discussing the proposals with Katherine it came to light that the chief executive had indicated at management team that he would oppose such an honorarium as the role of directors seemed unclear. I therefore took the decision that it would be counter-productive to have an argument at the meeting on 5/2/04. In terms of our standing orders any council decision cannot be changed within a year except in exceptional circumstances. So far as I can understand Management Team may have been comparing apples and oranges and I thought it would be worth taking the time to try to resolve the situation with Bill [Bill Howat, then Chief Executive] first as members would find it unnerving to be receiving conflicting advice.

I remain committed to proceeding as we discussed. The next scheduled meeting is on 22/4/04 but the Chairman has indicated that he would be prepared to call a meeting before then if there were sufficient business.

Again sorry for the delay for which I take full responsibility. I would maintain that it is not appropriate to put up such a report until all relevant officers are agreed.

Could you please let me have a note of Stephen’s address so that I might keep him informed.

I replied as follows:-

This is extremely disappointing and I shall of course be consulting my union on the matter. I note that, once again, the delay seems to be as a result of the intervention of Human Resources. I would like to know why the matter was raised at Management Team.

This Management Team meeting had preceded the meeting between myself, my GMB representative, Ms McDonald and Mr Donald Mackenzie on 23 January, at which the submission of a report recommending the payment of an honorarium to the full amount of the annual Standby/Callout/Disturbance allowance of £3,549 was agreed. One would have expected that our meeting would have been informed by the outcome of any pertinent decision at Management Team. When I had an opportunity to read the minutes of the Management Team meeting, of 20/01/04, I could see no reference to a discussion of, or a decision on, the payment of either an honorarium or Standby/Callout/Disturbance Allowance to myself.

I followed up this communication later, as follows:-

Further to my earlier email. I’ve now had the opportunity to read the minutes of the Management Team meeting of 20/01/04 and I can see no reference to a discussion of or a decision on, the payment of either an honorarium or Standby/Callout/Disturbance Allowance to myself. Surely, if the matter was competent business and a decision made or a view expressed that is now delaying the implementation of what was agreed at our meeting of 23/01/04, such business should be recorded. I would appreciate your views on this.

Despite my disappointment with this turn of events, I am pleased to note your own commitment to proceed as discussed and I hope that, despite the obstacles, we will be able to bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion.

Prior to the Management Team meeting on 18 February 2004, during an informal discussion on the matter, Mr Bill Howat stated that he had no recollection of voicing opposition to the payment of an honorarium to me. He also said that he would speak to Lesley McDonald to clarify his position in case anything he had said was being interpreted as opposition to such a payment.

Helen Froud returned from Maternity Leave on Monday 23 February. Nothing further was heard until Tuesday 23 March, when I received an email from Stephen Baillie reporting that Legal Services had written to him on behalf of Lesley McDonald. The letter stated that a report will be presented to the Human Resources Sub-Committee this Friday. Stephen will be sent a copy of the report today (Tuesday), when Lesley returns from annual leave.

I telephoned the writer shortly after 0900 hours and requested a copy of the report. She told me that she would speak to Katherine (presumably Katherine Mackinnon). I then asked her if the report was Lesley’s and she replied in the affirmative. Perhaps some day it will be explained to me why, if Lesley wrote the report, Katherine Mackinnon was being consulted in response to my request to have a copy. Nothing further was heard that day. I checked my mail tray at HQ on the way home from work and again on my way to work the following day. No sign of the report.

I telephoned the writer again shortly after 0900 hours on Wednesday 24 March and advised her that I had not received a copy of the report. She said she would check and call me back. She called me back within a few minutes to advise me that she had relayed my request to Lesley, who would consult with Katherine regarding the protocol of my seeing the report before it went to Committee. I advised the caller that I consider that it is important that the report is factually correct and that for that reason, I would like the opportunity of scrutinising it before it goes to Committee. She commented that her only involvement in the matter had been to write to Stephen Baillie on Lesley’s behalf and that Stephen Baillie would be sent a copy of the report “in due course”.

The reference to “in due course” jarred with what Stephen had written in his email. I telephoned Stephen and he confirmed that the letter had indeed stated that he would be sent a copy of the report on Lesley’s return from leave on 23 March 2004.

I sent the following email to Helen Froud at 1119 hours on Thursday 25 March:-

My union representative and I have been asking Legal & Democratic Services for a copy of the report regarding payment of an honorarium since last Tuesday, with no success. Can you email it to me now please.

Helen responded at 1309 hours that day:-

The report wasn’t finalised until the agenda was complete on Tuesday lunchtime of this week. A copy has been faxed to your representative this morning and I will get a copy over to you asap.

The report was faxed to me shortly after 1500 hours that day. I read the report over and over and it didn’t improve with repeated reading. I think this is an absolute disgrace; a concoction laced with half-truths and outright lies and the animosity of the writer shines through in every paragraph. It made me look like a total villain and if I were a member of that committee, I wouldn’t grant anyone an honorarium on the basis of such a report. The biggest disappointment for me however, was that Helen Froud as my line manager and head of department, was prepared to put this report before members.

I wrote to Helen as follows:-

I’ve just read the report, but I have not been able to discuss it with Stephen Baillie as he is in Edinburgh at the moment. I have to tell you that I am not content with this. There are a number of things in this report that I take issue with, in particular the statement that I am prepared to accept a rounded down sum of £3,000. One year’s equivalent lump sum is £3,549 and this takes no account of compensation for periods actually worked out-of-hours. I agreed to accept one year’s equivalent lump sum but I did not agree to accept any rounded down figure, nor was such a proposal ever put to me. I shall of course discuss this with my union and I have no doubt that more detailed representations will follow. I am disappointed that no opportunity was afforded me or my representative to see this report at an early enough stage that would have permitted us to correct inaccuracies in the document.

To which Helen replied:-

I am prepared to withdraw the item if you do not believe it represents the agreement you reached. I am happy to receive representations from you at any time up to 9.30 am tomorrow. Please let me know which route you wish to take.

I wrote:-

Can the report not be changed to accurately reflect the basis of my claim and what was agreed?

Helen replied at 1706 hours:-

Yes. I will change as per your last e-mail.

I responded at 1714 as follows:-

There is more to it than just the figures. I’ve had a bit more time to study the report and I have noted the areas I have so far identified as being inaccurate or misleading. These are detailed on the attachment. There may be other things which I haven’t picked up. I will take advice from Stephen Baillie on the report as a whole.

This is the text of my response to the honorarium report that I sent to Helen Froud:

HONORARIUM REPORT

Para 2.3

This paragraph states that I am prepared to accept a rounded down figure of £3,000. I did not indicate acceptance of any figure less than the full £3,549 annual sum, nor was such a proposal ever put to me.

Para 4.3

This paragraph states that I claimed that I should be treated in the same way as Principal Officers in Technical Services employed on Winter Maintenance. I claimed no such thing. The basis of my claim was parity with colleagues employed in emergency planning in Shetland Islands Council and The Highland Council.

Para 5.1

This paragraph states that Orkney have no standby arrangements for their emergency planning officers. This is misleading, the Emergency Planning Officer for Orkney Islands Council is not on call out-of-hours.

Para 5.3

This paragraph states that I have made a claim for settlement of an out-of-hours arrangement which I have assumed as part of my terms and conditions of employment. This is misleading; an examination of my Job Description and the arrangements whereby Emergency Planning is the ‘single door’ to the Comhairle in an emergency will reveal the true situation.

Helen was obviously able to overcome the problems posed by the tone of the report and she informed me post meeting that payment of the full annual amount had been approved.

On Wednesday 07 December 2005, I raised a complaint of bullying and harassment against Katherine Mackinnon, with Helen Froud, Director of Corporate Services. I reported all the above to the Chief Executive during our interview, on 10 January 2006 in the presence of Mr Stephen Baillie, as evidence of Katherine Mackinnon’s antipathy towards me. I indicated that I have documentary evidence to back up my claims, yet I was never asked to substantiate any of them. I was not asked if I wanted to produce witnesses nor was I told what Helen Froud and Andy Macdonald [Risk and Emergency Planning Manager] had said or given the opportunity to refute any of the statements made against me.

In his determination, released on 01 February 2006, Malcolm Burr, Chief Executive of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar stated: “I have obtained a copy of the report submitted by the Director of Corporate Services, which names Mrs. MacKinnon as contact Officer, to Human Resources Sub-Committee of 26 March 2004. I am quite clear that the report submitted in the Director’s name by Mrs. MacKinnon is entirely fair, sets out Mr. MacLeod’s claim in full and gives relevant background and information to assist Members in determining Mr. MacLeod’s claim. Far from being biased against Mr. MacLeod, the report is extremely fair and balanced and, indeed, recommends the making of a single payment to Mr. MacLeod of £3,000 in recognition of previous unclaimed standby arrangements. The terms, and recommendation, of the report are not consistent with a bias against Mr. MacLeod”.

HOWZAT FOR A MAGIC TRICK? – HARRY POTTER, EAT YOUR HEART OUT!

If I were a playwright, I might envisage the preceding dialogue something like this:

“Hi de Hi! Chief Executive, you and I know each other well from when you worked for the Comhairle as a solicitor. That pesky emergency planning fellow has lodged a grievance against me and of course I expect you to take my side”. “Don’t you worry about that, we’ll sort him out and when we’ve got rid of him, we’ll turn our attention to your director and get shot of her too.” “How can we do that Chief Executive?” “Hmm…” rubs chin, suddenly brightens; “I know, we’ll have a review and abolish her department. Well, we won’t really abolish her department, we’ll just abolish her (wink, wink). “Once she’s out the door, we’ll quietly abandon the review. The old Romans used to do it, only they called it reorganisation. Nowadays of course, a reorganisation must always be preceded by a review.” “Ooh, Chief Executive, that’s magic.”

But was it really magic – or something more unsavoury?

YOU DECIDE.

Your verdict may be informed by the following definition:-

Cheating is defined as an act of lying, deception, fraud, trickery, imposture, or imposition. Cheating characteristically is employed to create an unfair advantage, usually in one’s own interest, and often at the expense of others. Cheating implies the breaking of rules.

You dear reader, may be wondering why, when I lodged a grievance on 07 December 2005, it took until 01 February 2006 for the Chief Executive to issue his determination [see reference to RULES in the definition of Cheating]. Be patient – every twist and turn will be revealed in due course. There is a lot of story still to be told.

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