Making way for consultants; removing impediments to collusion
In three excerpts by the victim’s wife to give a panoramic view.
The names have been changed.
This was a big organisation, C_ Council, a public authority, one which was large, well run and prestigious with its finances in a healthy state when Colin had started to work there back in 1999, and the staff had been confident and cheerful. But by 2008 the Council was completely different and almost bankrupt, having been bled dry into the coffers of ‘consultants’, and was running up enormous debts. And instead of being run according to the work that needed doing and by sensible procedures that utilised the training, experience and professional judgement of its staff, it was now run according to the say-so of a small number of powerful individuals. It became just a horrible place to work (and I know one or two other individuals who worked for the same Council): everyone was stressed out of their skulls. That’s about 10,000 people employed directly by the Council whose lives had been made miserable, and the same thing has been replicated in public bodies throughout the country. Altogether, that makes an awful lot of people who used to enjoy going to work and gained satisfaction from what they did, and who now hate it and cannot wait to leave or retire.
The worst change (according to Colin) was that when he began his professional career (he was an accountant), managers and accountants produced their various reports and financial statements of one sort or another according to the simple factual truth of what had occurred, and on the basis of which sensible decisions were made – but, as national politics changed, managers and accountants found themselves with directors looking over their shoulders, and their reports and accounts were required to comply, not with the facts and in accordance with long-established professional standards, but instead with what the senior manager wanted the report to say. Colin dug his heels in as these changes came about and he continued to report the factual truth and refused to compromise his professional standards.
He came under pressure, of course, but he did not notice that he was being targeted and his working life made worse as a deliberate strategy, with cuts, staffing problems and numerous issues being deliberately imposed on his departments and upon him personally. By the end of 2007, what was about to happen never crossed his mind – that the organisation would simply ignore the law and that individuals with whom he had worked for over a decade would collude with one another in order to do so and to make his life hell.
– and they did simply ignore the law! This was not long after Tony Blair handed over to Gordon Brown.
To cut a long story short, we took on C_ Council through the Employment Tribunal system and won, from a legal point of view.
Colin took legal action against C_ Council in an attempt to prove that the Council acted wrongly, i.e. that they had effectively dismissed him from post when they took away all his reporting lines. This is called ‘Constructive and Unfair Dismissal,’ which is very difficult to prove, that the dismissal was both constructive and unfair, but Colin won, emphatically, as the Tribunal report shows. For that reason I’m sure that I actually have the right to tell you which council this was, and to name names, but I’m frightened to do so – sorry, but I am, frightened of the malice and injustice that is now at large in Britain.
It took more than two years but eventually we received financial compensation – but the amount merely covered the legal expenses, while those who carried out the ‘attack’ on Colin (for want of a better word) continued in employment and even gained promotion, and of course they did not have to pay the Council’s legal fees or other losses, all of which came out of the public purse.
The public lost out as well because Colin was a dedicated man who, in his own quiet way, did much good for the C_ area – despite being “an accountant”. Colin had, on emerging from university, dedicated himself to public service and had trained intensively for four years as a public sector accountant. He worked hard and consistently, steadily gaining status and his place in the world, a small place, but one that fitted his personality well. And he was a local boy – he was born in Mayday, the local hospital, and which is where his father died. He had spent his school days in the borough and it meant a lot to him to be working for his home town and for his old school fellows and family, the people he knew through church and all the other places over the years. (Which is what attracted me to live in the area in the first place, back in 1989. I had to wait for a train so decided to take a look around, and I noticed many families and old people and it was obviously a real community. Among my new neighbours I found many people who had lived in the same streets and even in the same house for all their lives, and the area soon became ‘home’ for me. Even the local accent turned out to be more ‘West Country’ than ‘Cockney’. People with roots, as we were saying, it’s so important.)
Colin was the lead accountant for about a third of the council’s areas of responsibility – a huge amount – including waste management (i.e. bin collection and disposal), road maintenance, street trees, parks, children’s playgrounds, leisure centres, libraries, public health, food standards (not only restaurant inspection but also checking that food being sold is what it says on the packet and has not been adulterated with anything toxic or dangerous in one way or another, you know, seriously important stuff!) and no end of things necessary to daily life that we pretty much take for granted, as well as many things that make life worth living – and that means not only producing accurate reports and accounts but also finding the funding, i.e. the financial resources to pay for things – which you might think would be straight-forward but, such is the complexity of rules and regulations, ensuring that what the council was doing was legal was an absolute nightmare. What’s more, he worked hard to make it financially efficient and not cost the people of C_ vast amounts of money to achieve one little thing. He was an expert on PFI (Private Finance Initiative, though it had various slightly different terms over the years) – and that’s another massive scam on the British people, a crazy-expensive and inefficient way to run the country – but Colin did what he could to ensure the contracts were value for money for the public. What he did was way more than mere number-crunching, there was a strong strategic and legal aspect to it, and all of it was predicated upon Colin’s strong moral values and sense of public service – which is why he did it. He worked long long hours over his regular time (and of course there was no pay for overtime) and as his wife I supported him, because I believed in the good that he was doing.
Back to C_ Council in the early 2000’s: On top of all of that, under the Blair-Brown government, John ‘two-jags’ Prescott shifted vast amounts of funding away from southern (conservative voting) counties and into northern (labour-voting) councils, and there were cuts and cuts and more cuts, which was massively stressful as well, trying to find the cuts and minimise the impact upon services for the public. The area is picking up again now, but it’s little wonder that C_ went downhill in this period.....
It was an ordinary day at work for Colin, in January 2008 – there had been no warning and no lead-up that something was about to happen at all (which is illegal in the first instance, there is supposed to be a series of warnings). Colin left his desk for less than a minute to use the photocopier. But in that short space of time someone, a person that Colin did not even see, left a sealed envelope on his desk addressed to him. It was quite a short letter that, with immediate effect, removed from him all of his reporting lines, meaning, it took away all of his staff and it took away his access to the Counsellors (that is, the local politicians) and various directors for whom he had been preparing all the various reports and accounts. Then the letter accused, or implied, that he had ‘lost’ £1,000,000 and summoned him to a meeting – and that was it.
Colin went into work almost as an automaton for another couple of days but he couldn’t keep going, he was a nervous wreck – and then ‘Mike’ from the Council started to phone us up every day to demand Colin come in to work. No way was Colin able to continue to work, he was completely freaked out. The Council had to employ several consultants to perform the work that Colin had been doing and that in itself must have cost a small fortune. (It was me who took those phone calls and that was the final straw for me in terms of using a telephone. I can’t remember the exact words, something like: “Colin is still expected to be in work” but the tone of voice: dull, heavy, oppressive and devoid of the smallest concern for either me or for Colin – Mike’s disembodied voice seems to drill into the side of my head again right now as I write about it.
We spent the next week expecting a knock on the door from the police (because of that million pounds) and Colin’s mental health crumbled and has never recovered. ‘Mike from the Council’ suffered a major heart attack shortly afterwards but he knew he was doing wrong – he did obvious wrong after obvious wrong and presumably the stress got to him – whatever, I found it hard to feel sorry for him when we heard about it.
The legal process took over two years during which time the council continued to insist that Colin had ‘lost’ £1,000,000 but never provided any detail on how this was supposed to have happened, and we were left with having to guess what he was supposed to have done and we had to prepare Colin to defend himself in a court of law from these unknown accusations – it was genuinely Kafkaesque.
Like Colin, I had understood that he was properly protected by employment law and by the reams of council procedures and protocols and ‘value statements’, not to mention his contract of employment, but we discovered that these things count for zero when the people who are supposed to implement them treat them as so much toilet paper – and when those in positions of authority, and those who should intervene, choose to stand by and do nothing.
Colin wrote to the guy at the top, (the head honcho also known as ‘Chief Executive’) and explained exactly what had happened, but this man took no action. Meanwhile the local politicians – known as ‘Councillors’ – people who had been meeting with Colin for years and with whom he had had a good working relationship – they merely joined the ‘three monkeys’ who "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil". It makes life easy for them personally and yet, bit by bit, destroys the decent and trustworthy society upon which we all rely to make our own lives tolerable; seemingly such people have no thought for the world in which their own children and grandchildren will live.
So there was no attempt from anywhere to hold the Council to account and nobody for Colin to turn to. That left only the backstop of the legal system which, expensive and flawed as it is, did come up trumps on this occasion and I am very thankful indeed for that and for the employment solicitors that we used.