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 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 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!

Post Three – Tempus Fugit

In relation to adverse weather, this had been designated a high priority area for winter planning.” Katherine Mackinnon, Head of Human Resources, Corporate Services Department, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, in a written statement to the Chief Executive.

It has never been revealed to me by whom had adverse weather been so designated and what level of priority had it been allocated and when? In any case, it was “adverse” news for me. It led to Katherine Mackinnon initiating disciplinary action against me and referring me to Occupational Health “to ascertain your fitness for your post”. More of all that in due course however.

In November 2005, management decided to establish a designated telephone service so that the public could ring a discrete number and receive local weather information via a recorded message. I informed management how it could be done, what it would cost and I even made a telephone line available for the service to be implemented on.

Thursday 01 November 2007: I have again rung the telephone number (01851 709913) on which the Premier Call Minder Service was established in order to provide weather information to the public. In her email of 1236 hours on Wednesday 23 November 2005, Katherine Mackinnon had written me “We need to have the phone line for community calls operational for the weekend in case there is an emergency…” Today, two years later, the service still consists of nothing but the test message that the Faire Service Co-ordinator recorded on it at the beginning of December 2005. So much for “high priority“.

Notice to readers: If you’re outside the United Kingdom, please don’t waste your money ringing the above telephone number, just take my word for it.

But perhaps I’m being overly critical here. Time does fly and two years is not really all that long in terms of eternity. It is possible even that my managers have forgotten the number and established the service on another line. No; they wouldn’t waste public money like that, would they? They would surely terminate the other line first. Or perhaps there has been no “adverse” weather in the Outer Hebrides in the last two years. No schools closed, no need to close the Braighe or any of the Uist causeways. No flooded roads, neither snow nor ice and therefore no need to grit the roads. Goodness me! the Comhairle must have saved a fortune with all this fine weather. We can doubtless look forward to a substantial reduction in our Council Tax in the next financial year.

But – No! surely not, how could I even entertain the thought? I must banish it immediately. Of course they’re neither incompetent nor stupid!

Post Two – I’m glad you’re paying attention!

It is gratifying to note that you have responded to my open letter in one respect so far. My name was removed from the Emergency Planning Contact List yesterday, Monday, 22 October 2007. It’s a bit of a wrench for me not to see my name up there after 20 years, but I am sure that we would both consider that preferable to continuing to give the public the impression that:

a) The Comhairle has an Emergency Planning Officer and,

b) that the Emergency Planning Officer is me.

I’m pleased that we have sorted out that little detail. The public appreciate openness and clarity and I know that you would not like to have been seen to have misled them.

Here! – I’ve just had a horrible thought, what if you weren’t consulted about taking my name off the contact list? What if my Blog has never even been brought to your attention? What if you’re being hoodwinked about the Comhairle’s ability to respond effectively to any emergency? But no; I’m sure officers of the Comhairle would never do that. Would they?


Post One – Open Letter to the Convener, CnES

An open letter to Alex A Macdonald, Convener, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council)
from Murdo MacLeod, former Emergency Planning Officer

I didn’t expect a brass band or even a lone piper, but a ‘thank you’ would have been nice

Remember me? I worked for the Comhairle for nearly 20 years. I retired early at the age of 62 because I came under new managers whose behaviour affected my health and made it impossible for me to continue. I do not intend to expand on the way I was treated in this communication, but I know that you will not be surprised to learn that I compiled a comprehensive contemporaneous record of ongoing events, which I intend to make public at a time of my choosing. Lies and deceit and dirty tricks WILL be exposed and their perpetrators given full credit for them.

My purpose in writing this letter is to take issue with you because the Comhairle has not acknowledged the contribution I made to emergency planning and preparedness in the Western Isles. You’ve had six months since my retirement to organise a civic ceremony and a banquet (big party) in my honour, but instead of that, I get the impression you would rather deny my existence. So here is your reminder!

I am not going to let you pretend that the authority is unaffected by my departure; I didn’t just do my job; my involvement in emergency planning went above and beyond the call of duty. Let me give you some examples:-

  • When the consortium of oil companies comprising Agip, Enterprise and Marathon planned exploration drilling west of the Hebrides in 2000, I persuaded them to donate to the Comhairle a container with counter pollution equipment to the value of £91,500, plus a further £8,000 to upgrade our communications infrastructure.

  • Conoco (uk) Ltd, drilling a year later, were convinced that they should not be perceived as niggardly and bequeathed a trailer full of counter pollution equipment at a cost of £43,000. You will remember of course that Conoco also donated a Mobile Chemical Decontamination Unit costing £30,000 to the Comhairle. The photos are still on the CnES website of you personally accepting the unit from Dr Gillian Bishop on 30th May 2001. This acquisition put the Western Isles at the forefront of Scottish local authority areas in terms of decontamination resources. It meant that during the Anthrax contamination incidents and scares after 9/11, we had a chemical response capability that others were scrambling to emulate.

  • You may also recall that on November 25, 2002, the Stornoway based Coastguard rescue helicopter ‘Mike Uniform’ carried out one of the longest rescue missions ever executed by a civilian helicopter. This was made possible by the availability of aviation fuel on the exploration drilling rig ‘Jack Bates’, operating northwest of the Butt of Lewis. I bet you have never once wondered how come the fuel was there. It was there because I had arranged for it to be there! I had persuaded the exploration companies to agree that every oil rig and drill ship working in Hebridean waters would carry pods of aviation fuel for precisely that purpose. The ‘Jack Bates’ was carrying three such pods.

For more than a year after I could no longer work, the Comhairle trampled over its own procedures and made a mockery of the law of the land in order to make things as awkward as possible for me. But that was alright, wasn’t it? The new Chief Executive; that outstanding example of sagacity and probity, was still in his honeymoon period and must be supported, whatever he did. I wrote to yourself for help and you rebuffed me. An employment issue you said. Of course it was an employment issue; I had been driven from my job.

Then, when I appealed for more added years for pension purposes, you chaired the appeal panel where you and your chums, aka Cllrs. Carlin and Munro, sat radiating sanctimonious hostility and staring at me as if I had just crawled out from under a rock. You prohibited me from addressing the panel and you rejected my appeal without the benefit of any figures; just an assertion that the authority could not afford it. This from a finance officer who started off by informing us that he had not had sight of the paperwork until the previous day. Why did the panel think this was acceptable? Did you consider that his professed lack of knowledge actually supported his contention that the Comhairle could not afford to grant me added years?

I gave you, in the words of a former manager, “a Rolls Royce service”, but Comhairle nan Eilean Siar discarded me like I was garbage. In the end I was glad to go; but I will not put up with the Comhairle pretending that I never existed, so I’m making this communication public. I know it will be tempting to respond by dismissing me simply as a ‘disgruntled former employee’. Don’t bother! I am a former employee. I am disgruntled – and I am now going to expose how the Comhairle treated me after all my years of dedicated service.

Not so long ago, Members were castigating Western Isles NHS Board for the way staff were allegedly being treated within that organisation. It is a shame that they don’t seem to have the same concern for council employees. I am aware that I am not the only person at this time who feels a deep sense of hurt and injustice at the treatment that they have received during their employment with the Comhairle. It is time that councillors turned their attention to what is going on within the authority and put it right, before more able and dedicated people are driven out.

I hope that you will use the money you saved from my salary wisely and that you will not fritter it away on trivia. But oh dear, I nearly forgot; you’ve already lost £25,000 per annum from the Western Isles NHS Board, because you can’t provide them with an emergency planning service any more.

Och well; never mind, there might just be enough left to fund one trip to foreign parts for yourself.

We all look forward to your response.

Murdo MacLeod.

PS One more thing – now that I’ve been gone so long, it’s okay for you to remove my name from your website. However, if seeing my name on the Emergency Planning contact list gives you a nice warm cosy safe feeling, you may keep it. JUST DON’T CALL ME WHEN THE BROWN STUFF HITS THE FAN!