Archive for January 2010

Dress code dilemma!

January 14, 2010

Everyone loves a good Trade Union over-reaction and this week we had a cracker.

At midday our local union rep (dressed in trademark hoody and jeans… More later) dropped his traditional badly photocopied rant on to our desks. I’m a keen fan of his work and always lap it up as a good way to put a smile on my face. Today, the topic was the proposal by the powers on high to introduce a dress code.

And what were the powers that be proposing? Compulsory ties? Skirts down to the ankles? Jackets on at all times? Only well shined shoes?

No, they wanted to ban overly casual clothes including denim; a ban on large tattoos, a request that women (and men) do not wear clothing that is too revealing and a request that people stay away from excessive jewellery.

Sometimes the Union drives me nuts. Why spend their time defending people’s rights to wear jeans, flash their tits and wear enough gold to make Mr T jealous? Surely there are better things to worry about.

And why we’re at it can why do people get upset about being forced to be smart… It seems old-fashioned but I like wearing a shirt, a nice pair of trousers and some shoes to work… You get to wear sweat pants and singlets at home… Surely we don’t need them in the office as well?

And as for the Union… How about looking out for the low paid or those with short-term contracts and less time focusing on keeping long-term employees underworked, over paid and wearing jeans?

Service Heads, You Don’t Have to Put on the Red Light

January 13, 2010

Before anyone accuses me, this isn’t random name-dropping, it’s relevant.

Many moons ago, I somehow gate-crashed the aftershow party for the re-launch of the Old Vic theatre in London.  A friend of mine was a desperate star spotter and dragged me down to see them all coming out after the show, and I got bored so ended up finding out details of the party, found myself speaking to Craig David of all people on the red carpet and blagged some spare tickets from him.

Inside were all manner of celebrities from the whole alphabet: real Z-listers who my friend drooled over along with the higher-in-the-food-chain type that I appreciated more.  I chatted with Kevin Spacey, drank with Richard Branson and danced with Tara Palmer Tompkinson.  Okay, maybe she’s not exactly A-list, but I still danced with her!

What relevance has this to Local Government I hear you ask.  Well, half way through the end of the evening I found myself in the urinals (damn, I’ve given away the fact that I’m male!), peeing next to Sting.  That’s right, the bass-playing, Police fronting, tantric legend that is Sting.

In that situation there are many thoughts that flash through your mind.  Should I congratulate him on writing some of the seminal songs of my youth?  Ask him about his future acting plans?  See if he can impart some pearls of wisdom for me and the missus to enjoy in the privacy of our own home?

All this and more flashed through my mind before I decided to do the right thing.  I waited for him to finish and wash his hands (Sting is a washer, not a dasher by the way) and leave the toilet before thanking him for throwing such a great party (he was in on the planning apparently) and wishing him the best for the future.

The reason I impart this fraction of the tale (it was a long and eventful night in the end, but that’s another story) is that I get struck by a similar position occasionally in the office.

Corporate Directors and Service Heads seem to like to present the aura of perfection they no-doubt see themselves as epitomising.  They walk – no stride – from meeting to meeting with intent and purpose, usually leaving a trail of minions and flunkies in their wake who are hoping to get a mere moment of their attention to agree some revision to an agenda or get some direction for a policy.  They don’t eat lunch, answer e-mails at midnight and never use the toilet, as peeing is for wimps.

Okay, so maybe that last one at least is an exaggeration, and that’s where the situation arises.  I have a decent relationship with most of the Service Heads in our directorate, and my face and name is known by Directors and even the Chief Exec of the Council.  That being said, I am still a relative nobody, albeit one who ends up doing a lot of presenting and faces up a lot of public programmes and internal engagement type activities.

I am a tad ambitious as a person, and as such want to make the most of each time I get to speak with these bastions of local government.  Relationships take a long time to build, so combining presenting to them, working occasionally with or beneath them and those random conversations outside of the meeting room can do wonders for one’s profile, and through that future career opportunities.  In fact, often it’s the non-work related conversations that give you the most insight into the way these people think, and also get you something that money simply can’t buy – their attention.

So what do you do when you find yourself standing at a urinal next to one of them?  Do you stone-wall them, abiding by the usual man rules of eyes straight forward with no more than a grunt to show you acknowledge the existence of any other being within a five metre radius?  Or do you take the chance to chat a little, continue to build that easy camaraderie which might just pay off the next time they are looking to hire an up-and-coming officer for a more senior position?

At the end of the day, no matter how strange their hairstyle or how incomprehensible are some of the things they write, no senior member of staff can truly be compared to a rock star.  I will never thank them for shaping my early musical tastes, will never enquire as to their thespian ambitions and will certain never ask for advice between the sheets.

They inhabit this strange grey area between being friendly and supportive and being less trustworthy than your average politician – when things are going well they will certainly have your back, but should things go wrong then they already have the target painted on your back. 

This doesn’t make them evil at all – I’m sure most of us would and will behave the same in similar circumstances – but does at least prove that they are no better or worse than their equivalents in the private sector.  What they lack in catchy lyrics and pumping basslines they make up for in responsibility to the masses and ability to create jargon at an incredible rate.

But Sting, they aint.

Putting the Tea into Local Authority

January 12, 2010

Would you steal a car?  Would you steal a wallet?  Would you steal a movie?  So says the anti-pirate rant at the beginning of every recent DVD release, encouraging the public to not steal things (the irony being that this message probably wouldn’t be seen on pirate DVDs anyway).

I want to add something to that list – Would you steal a cup of tea?  Yes, I know it’s petty (and this blog is of course anything but petty) but we used to have a tea club here.  Every month the whole team would chip in £2 to the tea club, with this fund being used to buy tea, coffee, sugar, milk and biscuits.  If you didn’t drink tea or coffee you usually ate some of the biscuits, so overall it worked out to be a good deal for everyone.

Then the person who chased people for this money left the team, and donations started slipping.  More and more people started crying that they didn’t drink tea, or that they bought theirs from the shop, or that the were cheapskates, or that their dog ate their homework.  People stopped paying, but whenever a round of tea was offered guess which hands shot straight up.

Milk disappeared quicker than my plums after a dip in the north sea, biscuits became a luxury on par with caviar and praise from your superior and one of the few communal things disappeared from the team.

Yes, it’s a minor thing to do and yes, in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter.  If I want a cup of tea I’ll still make one, and I’ll probably still make the offer to my colleagues.  But it’s just one more chip in the wall that is team spirit and identity.

I found out recently that a team not too far from where we sit has a rota, where every Friday one of them is tasked with bringing in snacks and treats for the entire team, which are then grazed upon for the rest of the day.  When it’s your turn yes, it’s a little bit of money to spend, but for the other seven or eight weeks you are able to munch on others offerings, so it balances out in the end.

There is no thought to “is this fair”, “is this sustainable” or “what about those whoa re wheat, lactose, nut and vodka intolerant” – they just get on with it.  Because they all make the effort everyone feels good when it’s their turn, and in a small way it helps to bind that team together.  Others actually want to be a part of that little group and they are happy to share – overall, everyone’s a winner.

In our own team this would have to go through several layers of management approval, need at least two business cases, a PID, risk assessment, equalities impact assessment, registration form, several health and safety briefings, food hygiene training and regular monitoring to ensure all adopted procedures were being followed.

Why can’t we just go back to the old days and bring back the informal tea club?  What is so hard for our team to grasp about chipping in a couple of quid at the start of the month to bring a little bit of joy and happiness to the lives of their colleagues?  As was said in one of the few good Guy Ritchie films: “the entire British Empire was built on cups of tea, and if you think I’m going to war without one then you are seriously mistaken.”  If it’s good enough for Queen Victoria and her Empire, surely it’s good enough for our little corner of the Council?

Meet Dave…

January 8, 2010

Downing Street has teams of armed police.  Barack Obama has a small army of secret service agents with him.  Even Harry Potter came up against some sort of many-headed dog/dragon/beast from hell in one of the early books/films.

Here at the Council we have Dave.

Okay, his name isn’t Dave, and there are more than one of him, but for the sake of argument and in the name of anonymity let’s call all of our security staff Dave and be done with it.

Dave generally does a stand-up job.  Not a good one, mind you – he literally stands-up just inside the front doors.  In theory his job is to stop each and every person who enters the building to make sure that they have official business there, and to ensure that nothing unsafe gets into the hallowed halls of power.  Oh, and to stop people using the stairs of course…

Dave does this from first thing in the morning to last thing at night, swapping with other Dave’s for breaks and patrols.  Dave must see hundreds if not thousands of people enter and exit the building every day, so effectively policing this many people must be a strain.

That being said, there are bare minimum standards that I would expect to be met, and one of those is the showing of ID cards.  These little cards have the borough’s logo on it, along with a mug-shot and some basic contact details.  Without it you can’t really get around inside the building as the majority of doors are security locked and need a swipe to get through.

Now, if you were to enter the building and show no form of ID at all you are always stopped and asked what your business is.  Even if you have been going in and out of the same building for several years, and speak to Dave regularly you are still stopped and made to sign the visitors book if you can’t produce your sacred card.


If you walk in and flash a card – any card – at Dave he blithely nods and turns his attention elsewhere.  I have forgotten my card more than once and have got past Dave with old ID cards, my colleagues ID cards (including those of a different ethnicity to me) – a colleague even regularly uses her library card from a different borough.

Come on Dave, earn your doughnut and obligatory good-night from me; check that ID!  You never know who or what could be getting past your scrutiny, someone might even get in who wants to do some work!

A little bit of snow…

January 6, 2010

I’m not going to be a Council basher for no reason here.  In so many ways the Council works hard to make sure that the streets are safe to walk on, that the roads are safe to drive on and that the vulnerable are supported throughout any cold snap.  Those out and about ‘in the field’ do an excellent job, braving the elements and getting on with their jobs.

Unfortunately the same is not true of those behind their desks…

Yesterday in the office all I could hear was talk of people planning to not come in the next day.  This was despite the fact that not a flake of snow had fallen, and that the transport links to the Town Hall are actually quite good.  Phone calls were being made with members of staff brazenly stating that they “won’t be able to make it in tomorrow, so will take the day off”.

How does less than an inch of snow (which has almost all melted by lunchtime anyway) stop a significant portion of the workforce from coming in?  What makes Council workers (not those on the streets, mind you) think it’s acceptable to slack off because it’s a bit nippy?

There’s no pithy finish to this piece – I’m truly annoyed at my ‘colleagues’.