As a follow-up to our earlier post, here’s a link to a Wirral Council meeting called for this Monday 27th March 2017, where plans will be put forward for the implementation of a new Customer Services management system, known as Access Wirral.
The process has serious implications for both staff and public, some of which are not yet public knowledge. Wirral In It Together have been privately advised that the council are planning to ‘trim’ the workforce by approximately 100 full time customer service jobs. This important figure has yet to be released publicly. Further, compulsory redundancies have not been ruled out.
With Wirral Council ticking all the boxes for abusive, bullying, “basket case” council – like Herefordshire County before them (see above) – and also being replete with dishonest senior staff, including the council leader, there’s a possibility – we would say even a likelihood – that the innocuous sounding Access Wirral may be implemented or crowbarred into position in similar fashion to that of Herefordshire’s new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system back in 2012.
And what happened at Herefordshire County Council was not just regrettable, it was shameful, callous and a complete and utter disgrace.
A number of disabled employees, qualifying to receive standard employment provisions under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, could not use the system because it could not be adapted for visually impaired disabled users. Furthermore, the inflexibilities of the new software put all end users at risk of foreseeable and avoidable upper limb injuries, which had not been foreseen or catered for when the software was commissioned as early as 2011.
The subsequent bullying by able-bodied seniors arose when disabled staff reasonably – but unsuccessfully – tried to assert their workplace rights under DDA. But this fell upon deaf ears and the sheer inflexibility of the system, coupled with workplace harassment was all in direct contravention of their statutory DDA protections.
The bullying was focussed and intense, and one member of staff was treated so badly, he attempted suicide – but was fortunately saved by a doctor just in time.
Three very senior staff left Herefordshire as a result but in a massive affront to bullied junior staff, were paid off a figure reputed to top £300,000 and gagged inside compromise agreements.
Meanwhile the disabled whistleblower, who’d reported the bullying incidents in January 2014, along with:
- purchase cost of £1.5 million
- process not signed off by Scrutiny Committee
- £35,000 annual maintenance costs
…had their own reasonable adjustments removed, and failed to receive any of the “protections” promised inside the PIDA 1998 (Public Interest Disclosure) Act.
PIDA’s fine words of bogus reassurance are still ringing hollow 5 years later as the whistleblower finds themselves still employed, but off work for approaching 3 years, without pay for the last 13 months and facing the prospect of workplace retribution should they return.
In other words, unlike the senior bullies of disabled people, who swanned off with a sack of public cash for their troubles, and onto the local authority merrygoround with a choice of new senior roles, the whistleblower is suffering precisely the kind of harsh detriment that the 1998 Act was supposedly designed to protect against.
It will be exceedingly cold comfort for this brave person to be told that 100s if not 1000s of UK whistleblowers – from all sectors – will now be in similar positions, in this, our supposedly democratically advanced UK 21st century world of work, where case law fails again and again to be written in favour of anybody with the courage to put their heads above the parapet and do the right thing in the public interest.
The ‘gatekeeping’ PIDA Act appears only to be succeeding in protecting abusers, and its 19 year litany of failure must be due for a serious and comprehensive overhaul.
Another issue with the Herefordshire software was that it wasn’t compatible with other IT systems, so didn’t interact with Highways – Amey at the time – and then later Balfour Beattie. This meant staff struggling on with it couldn’t effectively communicate with council contractors, causing workload to increase for everybody.
The upshot was Balfour Beattie having to take calls direct from the public for highways faults. All completely unforeseen due to senior management incompetence and lack of foresight.
Also, at Herefordshire Council it is only possible to report such serious issues to line management, i.e. those actively engaged in the bullying and the cover up of their own failure. A change to the constitution is needed to allow whistleblowers to go above the perpetrators and approach the Monitoring Officer directly. This and the previous foreseeable software failures are what Wirral Council’s senior officers and Councillors need to guard against now in order to cater for the protection and advancement of good faith whistleblowing.
We’ve already noticed on Wirral that the local printed newspaper, which has admittedly made great strides with the reporting of abuse and malpractice in the past, is nowhere to be seen yet on this issue, i.e. the already publicly reported threat to Customer Services jobs.
The prospect of 100 jobs going was exclusively reported to the public here on Wirral In It Together, but all the Wirral Globe could muster was a fawning ‘tribute’ article, which despite the new challenge of the council’s own competitor ‘Pravda’ newspaper, simply granted acres of column space to the authority, allowing them to wax forth on how the new idea should be viewed as an “opportunity” – and one which apparently carried no threat to staff.
We’d advise any Wirral Council Tax payer (tax hiked by 4.99% this year) to get themselves down to the Town Hall, Brighton Street, Wallasey, CH44 8ED, on Monday 27th March at 10:00 AM sharp if they want to see what’s being done by ambitious young Councillor Matthew Patrick – all in their name, and all with an undeclared amount of their money, but probably way over £1 million.
We hope this article gives people food for thought and some early pointers on a number of important lessons that could be learned.
Note to self: Memorably for me, this was the very subject matter on which I rang Mr Andrew White – very senior pen pusher at the ICO – a few years ago.
I’d placed an FOI request asking for the amount paid to the three senior staff – which despite the seniority of those receiving presumably large amounts of public money – his organisation had withheld as ‘personal data’ – if disclosed, went the party line, it “risked identifying the recipients”.
Over the phone, in response, I put a hypothetical scenario to him, as follows:
- Council declares £345,678
- [Mysterious process]
- Senior officers are identified
- Andrew, please explain 2 – the ‘mysterious process’
This was greeted by the ‘longest’ 10 seconds of silence I’d ever heard in my life, soon followed by Mr White’s spluttering delivery of a jumble of nonsense words, basically amounting to streams of hideous jargon punctuated by gobbets of tired cliche – and precious little of substance.
I thanked him and put the phone down on his six-figure-salaried-voice. Whilst feeling genuine pity for the man and his difficult day job, I then mentally chalked up another very small victory for the ongoing cause.