Back around April 2003, David Green, former Director of the Technical Services Department (Highways) suspended me, when I was an Assistant Engineer, working for Highways. I’d been employed within the Street Lighting section at the Council since 1996 and had found the need to blow the whistle on long term irregularities attached to the carrying out of night time Street Lighting scouting rounds. (This involved relatively large sums of public money).
The Council presented my suspension as a ‘neutral act’. However, very soon, a large recorded delivery envelope thudded onto the doormat. It turned out there was to be an internal investigation and following this, the council levelled trumped up disciplinary charges, accusing me of a campaign of ‘bullying and harassment’.
Strangely, nothing had been recorded about this behaviour at the time it ‘occurred’ – probably because it hadn’t occurred. But many months on, it seemed to me now that somebody’s creative juices had been flowing. This pointed towards collusion between unknown parties, whilst I was safely out of the way. The charges were poorly-evidenced at best, and magicked from thin air at worst…
My own original whistleblowing allegations regarding impropriety with public money were not acted upon and were quickly forgotten. I suddenly found myself up to my eyes in refuting these fraudulent charges. In the months spent away from work, I’d called upon my union, UNISON to help me in my predicament. I’d provided my UNISON ‘representative’ with a dossier / diary of all the nasty stuff that had been going on in the lead up to my suspension, all carefully recorded with incidents, times, dates and locations. Some of the detail of this was very unpleasant, even disturbing and I won’t go into that here.
When I handed this evidence across, I took the precaution of numbering the pages and glueing some of them together at the top. This proved to be one of the shrewdest moves I’d ever made.
When I turned up unannounced at the UNISON offices in Birkenhead one day to ask why they’d done nothing, the ‘representative’ tried to fob me off with empty excuses. I then demanded the return of the dossier I’d left in his possession. Sure enough, the pages were still glued together as I’d left them, several months before.
No-one had bothered to read it.
I decided to join what was then the Transport & General Workers Union (now UNITE) after being invited by the full time North West Regional officer (now sadly no longer with us). He was a good friend of mine, a man of principle, and I’d known him since my schooldays. He was disgusted by what the Council had done and was only too willing to offer guidance and support to me as a new member.
In summary, he wiped the floor with them. When the August hearing arrived, attended by David Green, who was assisted by the then Head of Human Resources, Garry Owen (a former UNISON full time officer who had prospered well since leaving them for management. See also Graham “Mistakes” Burgess and Dianne Kelly ).
My union rep raised some very pointed questions. He set about blowing the council’s counter-case full of holes, and enabled me to fill in with the facts, shoot it all down in flames, and finish them off. Ultimately, David Green was forced to withdraw the falsehoods and to find another job for me at the council. This was made all the more difficult by the fact that my reputation had been savagely trashed from within.
Certain middle managers who knew me, whom I’d worked under and who had until now valued my professional input, had suddenly located their yellow streaks, closed ranks and fallen into step behind the spurious bullying accusations brought by their seniors.
Unknown to the council, while suspended, I’d naturally been spending my time busily looking for a job elsewhere – anywhere – to get me away from what I now regarded as something of a ‘hell-hole’. This succeeded and I was delighted to move to a much better paid position in the private sector. The timing of this had been exquisite for me – and for my long-suffering but very strong and supportive family!!
The new organisation was fairly local, but a world away from Wirral Council, being a professional and forward looking outfit, with none of the seedy, cloying, sexist / racist undertones, and certainly not steeped in unaddressed cultural backwardness. In fact it was a very refreshing change. Here was a modern workplace, where I didn’t need to spend all my time ‘looking over my shoulder’. My input was encouraged, valued and well-rewarded.
Meanwhile Wirral Council, with its dreamt up allegations now lying in tatters, stumbled on, promising to find me a position that didn’t involve a pay cut and further detriment. While they struggled with this, I took great pleasure in playing my trump card and resigning… not forgetting to request a sum of back pay for work I’d done on Street Lighting scouting rounds that the council hadn’t paid me for – which didn’t go down too well with David Green. Davey-boy was like a bear with a sore head, having to watch all his grand designs aimed at sacking me dismantled, gathered up and thrown back in his important “executive” face.
Although many sister councils have now farmed out this sort of work, Street Lighting scouting rounds continue to this day to be carried out internally by Wirral Council officers.
Well, that’s at least some of my personal history in these affairs.
9th November 2012
I’ve been thinking back to that day in September 2003, when I returned to my work location at Bebington Town Hall for the last time. I’d tendered my resignation from the Highways Department, and indeed from Wirral Council, and been invited to come in, empty out my desk and return whatever Council property I still had. I also planned to say “goodbye” to colleagues and co-workers, which was something not on the official list of requirements.
There was a problem however with visiting the workplace, but not of my making. During my 5 months’ absence on suspension (a neutral act), unnamed others had been taking the opportunity to gang up and trash my reputation. And following an amateurish internal ‘investigation’ and the unsuccessful levelling of trumped up, gross misconduct ‘bullying’ charges, there were likely to be some embarrassed, unhappy individuals knocking about, feeling done down, exposed, and were probably not wanting to see their vanquisher turning up unannounced.
In support of the fraudulent charges, I’d been told I was ‘out of step with the rest of the team’ – a default feature of the process of alienation otherwise known as ‘lodging a grievance’ at Wirral Council. Admittedly, there may have been an unintended grain of truth in this remark. The everyday racist, homophobic and disablist ‘banter’ certainly had me giving an “out of step” response; I was either reaching for the car keys to get the hell out, or flaring up and arguing my case.
Maybe displaying a streak of independence, compassion or understanding for minority groups and vulnerable people, and nursing some fire in your belly marks you out to any clique as ‘someone to be eliminated’. I was later labelled ‘out of step with the rest of the team’ at #QuackCWaC Council (neighbouring Cheshire West authority who ‘removed’ my statutory information querying rights) some time later, after lodging a complaint there.
I’ll concede this much ~ I always got by despite this tendency to be out of step, functioning and forming friendships, without the need for constant validation from managers and their sycophants, and I succeeded in performing my job to a very good standard, as whistleblowers often do.
Having a strong and supportive family and group of friends, I soon found I could breeze along easily without the shallow ‘support’ of paid up, on message, surplus to requirement drones, bending to the will of their seniors.
Despite the layer upon layer of crap that had been built up and thrown at me, there were still 2 or 3 stronger individuals left in the office *waves* who stayed committed to the facts throughout all this….. and who were astute enough to see through the bullshit. The rest of the dumb hangers on, whether fully complicit or simply bystanding and keeping shtum, were happy to take the lies as read, not rock the boat and keep their own ambition of keeping out of trouble or climbing the greasy pole steadily on track.
So I arrived in work and parked up, noting that my UNISON shop steward’s car was there in the car park. Not far away was the flashy number preferred by my line manager – and his manager’s car was there, parked in its numbered space. A couple more colleagues’ battered jalopies were also in situ.
I strode in, works mobile and security pass in hand, ready to return them and was fully prepared to confront whatever was awaiting me. My ‘grandparent line manager’ greeted me nervously, looking a bit flushed. He took my phone and pass and began to explain, as if it were needed, and as if he did this every day, how to empty the contents of my desk, then make myself scarce.
I then walked into an almost totally empty office. It appeared my visit had been announced earlier. Despite all the cars, there was only one person in, who I’d worked with very happily for the last few years. Of course, I had no idea what she’d been told or how complicit she may have been in my departure – probably not much, being further down the ‘pecking order’. So this was left to one side and we had…
a good long chin wag…
as I dumped my things in a bin bag…
I did this at a very leisurely pace, expecting people to start drifting back to their work stations. This was a busy office after all. But nobody arrived. So I went a bit slower.
Still… no-one showed up. Where had they all gone? I continued to chat to my former colleague, but after about an hour and a half, I began to muse: This is a ‘working office’, in the service of the public; there are jobs to do; new street lighting columns (lampposts) to install; old ones to take down and remove…
These street lights wouldn’t look after themselves !
Yet my grandparent line manager (now back safely in his office) seemed happy to allow these public servants to come in, park up and hide somewhere else on site, away from their desks…
And that’s how it stayed. Nobody had the guts to show their face. My grandparent line manager entered the office again and made noises along the lines…
“X has work to do… she can’t chat all day“.
So I left, and ambled back to the car park, my hypervigilant antennae noting that as soon as the door slammed the all clear was probably sounded, they all came running back to their work stations (!) and work on the maintenance and installation of Wirral’s Street Lighting network kicked in again, as (ab)normal.
p.s. 2017 update. This office was farmed out to a company called BAM Nuttall, and I believe the specialist street lighting design function, along with highways maintenance, is now undertaken from their distant depot in Winsford, Cheshire, of all places.
Nothing like local knowledge is there, where service of the public is concerned?
Also, after this tactical sleight of hand, the BAM Nuttall workers are now one stage removed from serving the Wirral public anyway, and are responsible only to their private company bosses. So everybody loses out !
Except for those councillors or senior officers who may have been in prime position to trouser “favours” or take up inducements along the “selfless” path to the respective pinnacles of their chosen, stellar, sparkling careers.
Toodle Pip !