Post Ten – For such reasons are lives destroyed…

Hello again Mr Convener. It’s myself – och you DO remember; your former Emergency Planning Officer. I was just emerging from my festive fog when I happened to see the headline ‘Islands have many resources‘ in the January 03 2008 edition of the Stornoway Gazette. It slowly dawned on me that this was a quote from your annual ‘State of the Islands‘ address and that you must therefore have survived Christmas. Not every turkey did! Dash me Dougie if what I read didn’t have me raking through the cocktail cabinet in search of an elixir venerable enough to toast your blessed optimism. Maybe I overdid the toasting, but for the life of me I cannot think what resources you are referring to. All right – I got the easy ones, like wind, water (fresh and salty), rocks, peat….. Blast! my mind has gone blank again. Do please write and complete the list for me – so that I can feel optimistic too!

But – enough of this jollity already. Read this:-

As Emergency Planning Officer (EPO), I reported directly (consecutively) to the Head of Corporate Support, the Chief Executive, the Depute Director of Corporate Services and the Director of Corporate Services. The latter chief officer, Helen Froud, informed me on Tuesday 06 July 2004 that she was going on leave from the following day until Wednesday 14 July. Katherine Mackinnon (Head of Human Resources) would be Acting Director in her absence and would also be second on call for Emergency Planning. This was the third time, in my experience, that Helen had nominated one of her service heads as Acting Director and as my backup on call. On the first two occasions, the officers concerned had contacted me to establish lines of communication and offer any assistance I might require and then left me to get on with my job.

No so Katherine Mackinnon. Before Helen was off the island Katherine was at my door; ostensibly to discuss Emergency Planning callout arrangements. From the outset, she behaved in an aggressive and confrontational manner. So much so that, at one stage, I was moved to tell her that I thought that there was no point in continuing the discussion. She started off by informing me that there was no prospect of my getting an Assistant EPO. I pointed out to her that I had been assured by Helen Froud that the way had been cleared for the appointment by the meeting of the Human Resources Sub-Committee where Helen had presented a report on the outcome of the emergency planning review. Katherine stated that the members had merely approved consultation. I replied that I understood that was part of the process of establishing the post. She said that the establishment of the post was dependent on Helen finding the necessary funding and that was not going to happen. Helen had been counting on Isabel Mackenzie (my Administrative Assistant, who was present during this encounter) retiring in December to release her salary, but Katherine had told her that Isabel had no intention of retiring then. Both Isabel and I were upset by this. I told Katherine that Helen had not indicated to me in any of our discussions, that she was counting on Isabel leaving and furthermore, I had made it clear to Helen that I did not want Isabel to be disadvantaged as part of the process.

Katherine then said that she now unexpectedly found herself in the position where she is supposed to cover for me and needed to know what she was to do if an emergency occurred. I reminded her that she would be called only in the very unlikely event that Faire failed to contact me and that all that could be expected of her was that she should try to locate me. She was not satisfied with this and asked to be briefed on what she should do in the event that I was taken ill. (I should have reminded her at this point that on the eve of the new millennium, I had dragged myself out of my sickbed to activate the Emergency Centre because nobody else could do it) I replied that it was impossible for me to impart sufficient knowledge in the time available, for her to be able to do my job. She asked if there was an ‘idiot’s guide’ available and when I replied in the negative, she stated that surely I must have plans. I explained that there were plenty of plans available, but that I wrote plans mainly for other people. If I had to refer to a plan myself to start things off when responding to an emergency, I was going to be lost before I started.

Katherine then accused me of failing in my duty in not having made arrangements for someone to be trained to stand in for me in my absence. This from the person who had just taken delight in telling me that I would not be getting an assistant. I was shocked by her attitude and I pointed out that I have been begging for an assistant for years. She seemed totally unmoved by this and went on to say that she always made sure that there was someone qualified to take her place when she went off. I am still mystified about where, in the absence of an assistant, I was expected to find this person that I could train to take my place. Katherine went on to say that nobody is indispensable and that it is the intention that, given the similarity of the posts, the Health and Safety officer will be trained to take over from me. I replied that, in my view, the connection between Emergency Planning and Health and Safety is pretty tenuous.

After further discussion Katherine agreed with Isabel that, in the event of my being taken ill, Katherine would contact Isabel in the event of an emergency; they would try to establish a ‘lead department’ for the emergency and Isabel would assist Katherine with the response.

In order to clarify the situation that had developed, as I saw it, I sent Katherine the following message by email at 1228 hours on Thursday:-

“I refer to our discussion of yesterday, following your nomination by Helen Froud as second on call out-of-hours for Emergency Planning while she is on leave. I noted your concern that, in my absence, you may be called upon to perform duties for which you have received no training and have no relevant experience. I sympathise with your position and in reflecting on our discussion, I have concluded that it is inappropriate for any officer who has not received proper training and lacks relevant experience, to be put in a position where they may be required to co-ordinate the Comhairle’s response to an emergency.

I am copying this message to Robert Bennie, whom I understand is Acting Chief Executive for today and tomorrow and to Helen Froud.”

Katherine replied at 1235 hours as follows:-

“I consider you have exceeded your authority in releasing this email without discussing this with me first. I intend to take the matter further.”

A few days after her return from leave, Helen Froud came to see me. I showed her my report of Katherine’s visit and she expressed her regret at the way I had been treated. She said that it was clear to her now that not every one of her heads of service had all the qualities necessary to be able to act as Director in her absence. I told Helen that I was minded to raise a grievance against Katherine Mackinnon for the unnecessary upset she had caused. Helen was not keen on this and I agreed not to raise a grievance when Helen assured me that I would never find myself in a situation where Katherine Mackinnon was in authority over me again.

The following months were extremely busy as my workload kept growing and I was finding it increasingly difficult to meet everyone’s expectations. At a meeting on Thursday 07 October, Helen and I discussed the possible integration of the Emergency Planning and Health and Safety sections, a prospect that had been raised by managers in Corporate Services several times over the course of the past year. I told Helen that I had no objection in principle but that I expected that the head of the combined unit would report direct to her as Emergency Planning did now. Helen assured me that this was precisely what she had in mind. This was important to me because Health & Safety reported to the Head of Human Resources and I did not want to find myself under Katherine Mackinnon’s control again. In fact, without this assurance, I could never have co-operated in the process of integration. We went on to discuss the leadership of the new unit and I suggested to her that because of the disparity in our ages (me being an old codger), Andy Macdonald, currently the Health & Safety Officer, be offered the post of Team Leader. That of course was a big mistake on my part. But I only knew him slightly and he seemed a decent enough sort of fellow.

At a subsequent meeting on Monday 29 November, Helen Froud denied that she had ever given me an undertaking that the new unit would report to her.

In an attempt to get the help I needed to deal with my workload, I sent Helen Froud the following message on 17 November:

Please see and treat as absolutely confidential, the attached document forwarded to me from the Scottish Executive Health Department, entitled ‘Beyond a Major Incident’. This has a ‘Restricted’ classification and I don’t know at this stage who in the Western Isles NHS Board will have seen it. You will see that NHS Boards are expected to implement a whole range of plans and measures over and above those which already exist. I cannot see how, with our present setup, I can possibly meet their likely demands. I’m absolutely struggling at the moment to finalise our own Oil Spill Contingency Plan and prepare for the national exercise in February. I’m also under pressure to amend the NHS Board’s Major Incident Procedures, now that they have completed their “reorganisation”.

I think it is only fair to both of us that I tell you now that I’m rapidly approaching a stage where I just will not be able to cope.

Helen replied that day:

I treat this very seriously indeed. Thank you for giving me sight of it. I would like to meet with you and Andy asap to discuss our resources, responses and programme to manage the workload in a reasonable manner. I confirm with you absolutely that I do not expect you to take on work which is beyond your capacity. If we need to make a further urgent bid to the WIHB then so be it.

That meeting never took place.

I was put off work with a bacterial chest infection on Thursday 02 December and I remained on sick leave until Monday 20 December. My GP diagnosed me as suffering from Depression due to Work Related Stress on Wednesday 22 December and I remained unfit for work until 06 June 2005.

I returned to work under the authority’s phased return to work programme, with the recognition that matters had progressed in my absence with regard to the proposed integration of Emergency Planning and Health & Safety and that the combined unit was now reporting to Katherine Mackinnon. I had grave misgivings about this arrangement given Katherine’s previous hostility towards me.

After my return, I learned that this woman had told a member of Emergency Planning staff that the reason she hated me was because she had hated my predecessor and she had hated him because someone had once suggested to her that he fancied her. For such reasons are lives destroyed! I really don’t know if he had ‘fancied’ her or not; I certainly didn’t.

It’s all too ridiculous for words. She hated Helen Froud just as much as she hated me and Helen knew that perfectly well. Helen is not a bad person but she sacrificed me in order to try and save herself. She should have remembered, as old bodach Chamberlain had so pathetically demonstrated, that appeasing a tyrant never works. If only Helen had stood up to her, she and I would both still be in a job. Katherine Mackinnon and her toadies ensured that she didn’t survive long after me. It is interesting to note that Corporate Services still exists as a department of the Comhairle (the CnES website says so) almost a year after the supposed abolition of Corporate Services was used as a means to get rid of Helen Froud. Ochone, Ochone, the machinations of man!

So Mr Convener, there you have it once again. Are you going to continue pretending that there isn’t a problem and if there is, it is nothing to do with you. Are you going to hide behind your spokesperson again? I wouldn’t advise it; not after the pitiful response to the Stornoway Gazette story. They would probably describe me as a ‘self-confessed manic depressive’ or something similar. You just couldn’t trust them not to bring even more ridicule down on your head.

Make 2008 special. Do something about that malicious, spiteful, vindictive and venomous woman who drove me out of my job; who turned Corporate Services into a snakepit, who has made life hell for others before me and after me and who will continue to exercise her malign influence as long as she knows she can get away with it.

Go on – you can do it if you really try!

Advertisements

Post Nine – The truth is Incontrovertible

“The truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end; there it is.” Winston Churchill.

Dear Convener

Hello – it’s just myself, Murdo MacLeod, your former Emergency Planning Officer.

Remember this? “The Comhairle is confident that correct procedures were followed at all times in the case of Mr Macleod and maintains that he was always treated fairly at all times.”

Oh yeah?

This was the Grievance Procedure

This is what actually happened

Aggrieved party submits complaint.

On Wednesday 07 December 2005, I raised a complaint of bullying and harassment against Katherine Mackinnon, with Helen Froud, Director of Corporate Services, under cover of a confidential note.

Head of Department (or other nominated senior officer) to reply within 5 working days.

Correct procedure followed by management so far.

Ms Froud acknowledged my communication in writing on 08 December, indicating that, in her view, the matter was at Stage 2A of the Grievance and Dispute Procedure. In accordance with the requirements of the procedure, she would arrange a meeting at which I could outline my grievance to her, accompanied by a representative, if I so wished. I advised Ms Froud by email on 09 December that I would be represented by Mr Stephen Baillie from GMB Scotland and I provided her with a series of dates when we would be available.

Stage 2A

Head of Department to arrange a meeting with the parties within 5 working days. The meeting does not necessarily have to take place within 5 working days.

Management starting to deviate from procedure.

Correct procedure followed by management so far with regard to timescales, but arrangements with regard to “consultation with the Personnel Officer of the Authority” have fallen apart.

Chief Executive has usurped the right of my Head of Department to hear my complaint.

On 13 December Ms Froud wrote again, acknowledging that the following day was the time limit for arranging a hearing and advising that she was experiencing some complications arranging this as I am unable to use anyone from the HR team to advise me. I am awaiting the return of the Chief Executive this afternoon and intend to ask him how I might proceed”.

I consulted GMB and responded to Ms Froud on 14 December to advise her that my representative had asked me to convey to her his opinion that the entire HR Section should not be excluded from this process, as my grievance is solely against Katherine Mackinnon. I also requested that she speed up the process.

Ms Froud responded that same day, 14 December, informing me that a hearing had been agreed for Wednesday 21 December at 0900 hours. She would be advised during the course of the meeting by Mr Malcolm Burr, Chief Executive.

I wrote to Ms Froud on 15 December, highlighting the difficulty an 0900 meeting would pose for my representative in terms of travel arrangements and proposing a meeting at 1200 hours instead. I went on to say that “We find your suggested deviation from procedure in your being advised by the Chief Executive unacceptable. This would preclude the Chief Executive’s involvement at a later stage of the proceedings, should the matter not be satisfactorily resolved with yourself. We see no reason why Human Resources should be kept out of this process. I am entitled to expect that Personnel Officers would act in a professional manner and that confidentiality would not be an issue”.

On 19 December, Mr Burr wrote to GMB “Given that the grievance contains reference to Helen Froud’s actions, I have decided to hear the grievance myself”. He went on to propose a rearranged meeting at 1400 hours on Tuesday 10 January 2006. Before agreeing to the proposal, GMB asked me how sure I was that I would receive a fair hearing. I replied, “I think we must give our new CE the benefit of the doubt regarding the prospect of a fair hearing”. If only I knew then what I know now!

Stage 2B

Meeting takes place.

The Chief Executive interviewed both Katherine Mackinnon and myself separately, accompanied by our union representatives, on Tuesday 10 January 2006.

Stage 2B

Timescale now completely awry.

Written reply to be made as soon as possible, but in any event, within 5 working days.

On 01 February 2006, Mr Malcolm Burr released his determination pertaining to my grievance against Mrs Katherine Mackinnon, Head of Human Resources, which I had submitted to Ms Helen Froud, Director of Corporate Services, on 07 December 2005. Mr Burr had advised my representative and I at our meeting, that there would be a delay due to other commitments.

Stage 3

Aggrieved party to appeal.

After due consideration, I concluded that the determination was unfair to me and that it contained inaccuracies which may have been based on a misrepresentation of the facts or outright lies. Accordingly, on 07 February, I wrote to Ms Froud, expressing my dissatisfaction with the Chief Executive’s determination and requesting that she “now arrange for the matter to be considered by the Grievance Sub-Committee of the Policy & Resources Committee”.

Stage 3

Timescale, what timescale?

The grievance procedure in effect at the time had no timescales after Stage 2B.

But – in March 2006, the Comhairle’s Grievance Procedure was changed to read as follows:-

Stage 3 – If the employee remains dissatisfied with the response from the Director or nominee there shall be a right of appeal to the Personnel Appeals Panel. A meeting of the Panel will be convened within 20 working days of receipt of the written statement of appeal.”

On 15 February, Ms Froud wrote “I acknowledge receipt of your notification of appeal and I will take the appropriate steps for your grievance to be considered at Member level”.

Stage 3

Timescale, what timescale?

Two months later, on 12 April, when nothing further had been heard regarding my appeal, my union representative, Mr Stephen Baillie, Regional Organiser, GMB Scotland, wrote to the Chief Executive asking what progress had been made on my grievance. This elicited no response from Mr Burr, but GMB received a letter dated 19 April from Mr Derek Mackay, Corporate Services, who advised that the matter had been passed to him.

Stage 3

Timescale, what timescale?

This deadline applies to both myself and the Chief Executive.

04 July 2006. Derek Mackay writes GMB advising a deadline of 12 July for written submissions to the Appeals Panel.

Stage 3

Timescale, what timescale?

On Monday 31 July, Stephen Baillie advised me that my appeal hearing has finally been fixed for 0930 hours on Tuesday 29 August.

Stage 3

Timescale, what timescale?

On Thursday 24 August, Derek Mackay communicated with Stephen Baillie as follows:-

“Can you give me a call tomorrow regarding the appeal next week. The CX has indicated that as he has not had sight of your submission he feels he may have to ask the Panel to adjourn the meeting as he may have to get information from other officers. He has requested that the hearing be postponed and that he be allowed sight of your detailed submission.”

Stage 3

Timescale, what timescale?

Not only had the Chief Executive not met the 12 July deadline for submitting papers to the Appeal Panel; he still had not done so by 24 August and according to procedure, he was not supposed to have sight of my submission until he had provided his own to the committee clerk for release to my representative. He got round this by merely submitting a copy of his determination with no additional information.

Procedure, what procedure?

Tuesday 29 August 2006 – my appeal against CE’s Determination fails and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Grievance Procedure is exposed as a complete sham.

The members of the panel were:

Councillor Donald Nicolson (Chair)

Councillor Angus McCormack

Councillor Neil Campbell

Councillor Roderick Morrison

Malcolm Burr had merely submitted a copy of his determination with no additional information.

My representative reported that the Chief Executive just kept repeating that he had interviewed all the relevant people prior to releasing his determination. He apparently kept on repeating this even when Mr Baillie pointed out that he had not interviewed the Emergency Planning Assistant. This appears to have been perfectly satisfactory to the Appeal Panel.

While I expected that the panel would be predisposed to support the ‘new’ Chief Executive, I am nevertheless surprised that the fact that I had demonstrated that his determination was based on outright lies and misrepresentations by my management, seemed not to matter. Nor did the clear and repeated breaches of the Comhairle’s policies and procedures by management, which I had been led to believe would be a matter of concern to the panel. One Elected Member on the panel had made frequent public representations about the manner in which Western Isles NHS Board were allegedly treating their staff. It is ironic that this Member was apparently prepared to turn a blind eye to the way I had been treated by management in the Comhairle.

I subsequently asked my GMB representative what had been the ‘killer blow’ for me. He replied that there had not been a ‘killer blow’; the panel had learned nothing during the hearing that could account for their decision.

That last indicates to me that it was a ‘done deal’ before the hearing. I had submitted clear and irrefutable proof that Malcolm Burr’s determination was flawed, which the panel chose to ignore.

This was the end of a process that did not conform with the Comhairle’s Grievance Procedure. This was the fault of management and it serves to highlight how inappropriate it is for the Personnel service to be involved in the management of an operational unit. Helen Froud found herself in the position where she couldn’t use Personnel staff to advise her in hearing my grievance. At the time, I rather naively thought that the problem lay with the issue of confidentiality. I have since realised however that Human Resources staff would have been terrified of incurring the displeasure of Katherine Mackinnon and would therefore not have wanted to be involved. This led to a wholly unacceptable delay and breaches of procedure. It seems to me that if there is a grievance procedure, it has to be capable of providing a fair platform for everyone who feels they have no form of redress other than to invoke it. It did not provide an equitable platform for me.

I feel sure that there are those in the Comhairle’s employ and among elected members, who feel uneasy about their role in the way I was treated. We would all do well to remember that there is no such thing as a free lunch and that once having supped with the devil, we are forever beholden. I can imagine that if one owes a promotion or a redundancy payment of thousands of pounds (to which they are not entitled because their job still exists) to a certain individual; it must be very difficult to obey the dictates of conscience and speak out. I can also understand that many people who could speak out, fear for their jobs if they did so.

I do not blame those latter, people have families to feed and take care of. So go in peace my friends; you owe me nothing.

But what about you Mr Convener, do you still maintain that “The Comhairle is confident that correct procedures were followed at all times in the case of Mr Macleod and maintains that he was always treated fairly at all times”? Do you – really?

Post Eight – The Data Protection Merry-go-round

Dear Convener

Hi – it’s only me, Murdo MacLeod, your former Emergency Planning Officer.

Remember this? “The Comhairle is confident that correct procedures were followed at all times in the case of Mr Macleod and maintains that he was always treated fairly at all times.”

Oh yeah?

On 10 March 2006, I wrote to Gavin Lawson, Solicitor, the Comhairle’s Data Protection Officer, in the following terms:-

“My name is Murdo MacLeod and I am currently employed by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar as an Emergency Planning Officer. My payroll number is XXXXXX. Under the terms of the Data Protection Act 1998, I require my employer to provide me with a copy of everything in my employee records. I also require a copy of all the information presented to the Chief Executive by all parties, pertaining to my grievance of bullying and harassment against Katherine Mackinnon, together with the Chief Executive’s own records.

I would appreciate early confirmation of receipt of this communication. Thank you for your co-operation.”

I received a letter from Mr Lawson dated 14 March, acknowledging receipt of my request and seeking clarification regarding the information I required from the Chief Executive. I replied on 15 March as follows:-

“Thank you for the prompt response to my letter of 10 March. You requested clarification on two points:

(1) My request for all the information presented to the Chief Executive does include the information supplied by myself.

(2) I refer to any notes or other records created by the Chief Executive in the process of addressing my grievance.

Thank you for your co-operation.”

By my reckoning, the prescribed 40 day period (as stipulated in the Act) expired on 22 April. I had not received any further communication from Mr Lawson by then. I wrote again to Mr Lawson on 02 May, as follows:-

“I wrote to you on 10 March 2006 under the terms of the Data Protection Act 1998, seeking copies of information referring to me held by my employer. Your letter of 14 March acknowledged receipt of my communication and in your reply you stated that my “request will be processed promptly and in any event within 40 days of receipt.”

The prescribed 40 day period is now long past and I have not received any information, nor have I received any explanation for the failure to provide it. Please note that if I do not receive the information I am entitled to by Tuesday 9 May, I will consider lodging a complaint with the Information Commissioner.

I look forward to your early response.”

On 06 May, I received a letter from Mr Lawson, in which he claimed that “I have not yet an answer to my request for clarification. The 40 day clock was stopped when I made my request and will not begin again until you provide the clarification sought. It is therefore in your best interests to provide the clarification as soon as possible. There has therefore been no failure to provide you the information within the statutory time limit”

My letter of 15 March was sent by first class mail and posted by me in the letterbox beside the Royal Mail Sorting Office in Stornoway (across the road from the council offices), as indeed were all my letters to Mr Lawson. I do not believe that the Comhairle did not receive my letter of 15 March.

I wrote to Mr Lawson on 12 May, expressing astonishment that he claimed not to have received an answer to his request for clarification. I enclosed a copy of my letter of 15 March and I sent copies of both letters to the Chief Executive. I requested Mr Lawson’s and Mr Burr’s early confirmation of receipt. Mr Burr confirmed receipt in a letter dated 15 May, in which he advised that he would discuss the matter with Mr Lawson “over the next few days”. No confirmation had been received from Mr Lawson by 26 May, so I wrote to him again, copied to the Chief Executive. I received a letter of apology from Mr Lawson dated 29 May and a letter from Mr Burr dated 30 May, confirming that Mr Lawson had received my previous communication.

On 02 July, 49 days after my second request for data access and 111 days after I had first asked for copies of information about me held by the authority I had still not received a single piece of paper. I wrote to the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC), requesting his intervention and I copied my letter to the Chief Executive. On the evening of Tuesday 04 July, about 6.40 pm, an A4 envelope was pushed through my letterbox. I did not see the person who delivered it. The envelope was addressed to me but not postmarked and I assumed this was the information I had asked for, being hand-delivered. It wasn’t very bulky and as I looked at it I thought it didn’t look much to show for nearly 20 years service.

On opening the envelope, I found a compliment slip signed by Mr Lawson and copies of various documents pertaining to my sick absence and my grievance against the Head of Human Resources. In fact, the only documents I didn’t already have were statements from the Head of HR and the Risk and Emergency Planning Manager. The earliest dated document was 07 April 2004 and the latest was 01 February 2006. There were multiple copies of several documents; six in one case. This was not what I asked for, this is not all I’m entitled to and this is not what I was promised. It beggars belief that my employer made me wait 113 days for what was provided. On Thursday 06 July, I received a letter from the SIC’s office advising me that he has no remit under the Data Protection Act and to send my complaint to the UK Information Commissioner. I did that the same day.

I received a letter dated 17 October 2006, from the Information Commissioner’s Office, advising me that they were now in a position to deal with my complaint. The Commissioner’s Office intend to approach the Comhairle “in order to clarify the situation and establish why, so far, they appear to have failed to comply with your subject access request”. I received a letter dated 14 November (184 days after my original request) from the Comhairle’s Freedom of Information Officer, together with a package of papers described as a “copy of your file” held within Personnel. If what I received is a copy of everything in my personal file/records there is something seriously wrong with the upkeep of the authority’s personnel records. I had no alternative but to bring my dissatisfaction to the attention of the Information Commissioner again.

The Chief Executive had not fully complied with my information request either. I have not had sight of Helen Froud’s submission nor of Mr Burr’s notes. The Commissioner was so advised.

Following correspondence with the Comhairle’s newly appointed Freedom of Information Officer (FOI), I met with her at her invitation on Monday 26 March 2007. She allowed me to read a file which contained material relating to my grievance against the Head of Human Resources. I did not see any notes, handwritten or otherwise, which I could attribute to the Chief Executive. The FOI Officer had stated in her letter of 20 March, that; “You have been provided with copies of all notes and records taken by the Chief Executive in the process of addressing your grievance”. I asked her during our meeting if she had written that statement because she knew it to be true, or because that was what she had been told. She replied that it was because that was what she had been told.

I have never received a copy of the notes the Chief Executive took at our interview.

Dear reader – Did the Comhairle’s actions conform to the spirit and the letter of the law?

You decide!

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.

 

Post Six – Your slip is showing…

Dear Convener

It’s myself again – do bear with me while I write a wee introduction for the benefit of my other readers.

On Thursday 22 November 2007, the local newspaper ‘Stornoway Gazette’ published a story based on my blog, under the heading “Former employee hits out”. A spokesperson for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar responded: “The Comhairle is confident that correct procedures were followed at all times in the case of Mr Macleod and maintains that he was always treated fairly at all times. The Comhairle notes that, despite Mr Macleod’s repeated allegations, he has not sought to pursue his complaints in law. We would not wish to comment further on the self confessed ‘rants’ of an also self confessed ‘disgruntled former employee’.”

Now then Mr Convener, I had not, when I started my blog, envisaged that I would be interrupting my narrative to address utterances from my former employer. I had intended to post my revelations gradually and in my own time. After all, in retirement one does not face the kind of deadlines that are part and parcel of one’s day at work. When this Post is published, I do intend to resume my leisurely schedule but I cannot for now resist responding to the silliness of the Comhairle’s spokesperson. Don’t think for a moment that I am unappreciative; what could be better than having your enemy manufacturing your ammunition for you? It would be churlish of me to forego the opportunity of firing it back at you – so I won’t.

This won’t take long. Let’s look at what was actually said: “correct procedures were followed at all times”. No they were not and I can prove that. “Treated fairly at all times”. No I was not and I can prove that. “Not sought to pursue his complaints in law”. What on earth is wrong with you people? Can you not tell right from wrong without a judge or tribunal president telling you the difference? Challenging me to take legal action against you is like turkeys daring Bernard Matthews to bring Christmas forward to September. If I choose to do so, I will – and you should not assume that I am ignorant of the deadlines that apply. I say to you – as I say to the other turkeys, “Be patient, Christmas will be here soon enough”.

Now we come to the really stupid bit; the use of the term ‘self confessed’. “We would not wish to comment further on the self confessed ‘rants’ of an also self confessed ‘disgruntled former employee’.” It was totally inappropriate to use that term to describe either my writings or my status. My blog is titled ‘Murchadh Ruisia’s Rant’ – note that ‘Rant’ is singular, not plural. If I had called it ‘Murchadh Ruisia’s Journal’, would you have described my posts as self confessed journals? Have you taken leave of your senses? I’m not a self confessed anything. You might describe me as self proclaimed or even self declared; but self confessed – how pathetic.

I hold you personally responsible for the spokesperson’s statement. The statement was made on behalf of the Comhairle and YOU are the head of the Comhairle. It follows therefore that the statement was made with your approval. If it was, you are ill advised. If it was not, you are ill served. In my ‘Post Four – More Red Herrings than a Kipper Factory’, I urged you to put a stop to this kind of thing. It is a great disappointment to me that you have not done so and I repeat that the people of these islands deserve better. I hope that I will not have to remonstrate with you over this issue again.

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.

Post Four – More red herrings than a kipper factory

Dear Convener

Just a week ago in my post “Tempus Fugit”, I set out to inform readers (but primarily yourself) of the Comhairle’s failure to utilise the telephone service that was set up two years ago to provide information to the public on local weather conditions during periods of “adverse weather”. I have today noted on another Weblog that a spokesman for the Comhairle has subsequently claimed that it was set up as an additional line which can be activated if needed in a major emergency to reduce the level of calls going to police, Comhairle etc. It remains in place and can be activated if required. It was never intended to be a 24 hour weather line.

Why do you countenance such balderdash being fed to the community? It appears that the Comhairle is more adept at manufacturing red herrings than a kipper factory and the people of these islands deserve better than mealy-mouthed utterances designed to cover up malevolent incompetence. I recall that you personally got quite agitated recently when you considered that information you had been given by officers caused you to mislead your electorate. So put a stop to it. I will never make an allegation that I cannot prove and instead of challenging my claims, you should be investigating them and taking the appropriate action.

BTW – I note that the recording has been changed. Purely coincidental of course!