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!