Post Seven – Banished to a Hut

I worked for nearly 20 years as an emergency planner for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), a Scottish local authority with headquarters in Stornoway on the Island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. From 1996 to 2007, I was the sole Emergency Planning Officer for the area. My office was the authority’s Emergency Centre, remote from HQ and permanently configured to enable the Comhairle and the local Health Service (under a service level agreement) to respond quickly and effectively to any emergency affecting the Western Isles.

On Wednesday 15 February 2006, I was invited to a meeting with my line manager Andy Macdonald at 1400 hours in his office in a hut adjacent to the HQ building. He advised me that our departmental director had identified the production of a generic major incident plan as a priority and she wanted it completed within three months. He said that I was to move into an empty office across from his own and we would work on it together. I was extremely surprised by this instruction, especially as it meant that I would be unable to discharge other duties that fell to me in my position; not only in respect of my employing authority, but also for the co-terminous local health authority.

I suspected that I was being set up for disciplinary action. My managers would have expected me to fight tooth and nail to remain in the Emergency Centre. I raised no objection to his proposal and his demeanour immediately confirmed that my acquiescence was unexpected. I asked him what was going to happen to the Emergency Centre and he said that his Emergency Planning Assistant (whom we will call Jasper) would be there. The meeting went on much longer than I felt the discussion warranted but we were on reasonably amicable terms. Before leaving his office I suggested that he ring Jasper and advise him what had been decided.

He agreed to this and I walked back to my office. When I got there shortly after 1600 hours, Jasper was not there and I assumed that he had left just before I came back. About ten minutes later my manager phoned and told me that Jasper had reported some problem at home to Personnel and had been allowed to go home early. That sounded reasonable enough and I thought nothing of it.

When I got to my office next morning, Jasper was already there. He seemed to be very tense and he told me it was time to “put our cards on the table”. He said that he had been told to lie to me about the events of yesterday afternoon but that he was going to tell me all about it. He also said that he expected me to be straight with him. He told me that a clerical officer from Personnel had telephoned him just after I had left the office to meet my manager and told him to go home. This was on our manager’s instructions, she said; because our manager did not want him to be there when I got back from the meeting. He was promised that his flexitime would be adjusted so that he would not lose any hours. Jasper then told me that my manager had phoned him at home that evening and told him to tell me that he had asked to be allowed to go home. Jasper also said that my manager had told him that I had said that he was not competent to do the work that I was going to be leaving behind. I was absolutely shocked. I never said this. I assured Jasper that I have the highest regard for his ability and had never made a secret of that fact. Jasper then went on to say that he had come in to work that day prepared to “rip my arms off and beat me to death with the stumps”, if I hadn’t persuaded him that I had not made any such statement about his competence.

My manager put me at considerable personal risk when he lied to Jasper. He had told me himself that Jasper “has a problem with anger management” and I consider that it was at the very least irresponsible, to put me in such a position.

My manager came to the Emergency Centre around 1000 hours that day with a technician from IT, to take away my PC and office chair. I confronted him about the false statement he had made to Jasper. He told me that he had sent Jasper home to protect him from me in case I had become angry at being required to move from my office. I was absolutely dumbfounded, I assured him that I don’t go around assaulting people and in any case, I can’t imagine someone as young, fit and strong as Jasper (who used to be on a Royal Navy Field Gun Team), needing any protection from an old codger like me. As far as Jasper’s competence is concerned, he stated that Jasper had misunderstood the definition of ‘competence’ that he, my manager, had been using during their telephone conversation.

Jasper submitted his resignation to our manager the very next day and he later informed me that our managers had offered him my job if he would co-operate with them in engineering my dismissal.

I no longer work with these people. Neither does Jasper and I wish him well – wherever he is and whatever he is doing.

 

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