Local Authority Bureaucracy

Opening yet another brown paper envelope, Sally sighed and looked despairingly over at her husband Ed. He pulled a sympathetic face and came over to perch on the arm of her chair.

“More bureaucracy?” he muttered, kissing the top of her head and smiling as he breathed in the scent of violets that he always associated with her.

“Hmmmm.” Sally growled. “They are so incompetent. They can’t even agree on the date they dismissed me now. The council solicitor says it’s the date on the letter of dismissal, but my P45 says the date of leaving is two days later. I was under the impression that the P45 was a legal document but it was filled out by a halfwit in payroll, whereas the letter was typed by a nice secretary who has known me for years. It’s not exactly the kind of thing that will cause an issue, but it annoys me that they can’t even get a simple thing like my date of dismissal correct.”

“Drink?” He got to his feet in expectation of the answer.

“What time is it? Nearly six o’clock! Have I really been here for four hours looking at all this paperwork?”

“You have. Put it away for now, I’ll stick the news on and bring you a drink. Baileys?”

“Over ice. Yes please. I wonder how Ben getting on?”

“He’ll call. Unless they’ve locked him up in a room somewhere because they’ve discovered that he’s related to you.”

“Oh no!” Sally cried out in horror! “You don’t think …. oh, I see – joke! Very funny – not. There are some extremely nasty people there – as well you know.”

He sat back down beside her again and handed her the glass, clinking it against his own.

“Cheers! Yes, I know exactly how nasty your ex-colleagues are and the kind of fate that some of them should have met because of their behaviour. Shame the serial killer didn’t take them in reality. I’d happily give him another list.”

“Don’t! I find it hard to forgive myself for starting all that in the first place. If I hadn’t written that stupid list…”

“…it’s too late now. Who knows, maybe someone else might bump them

off eventually.”

“I doubt it.” she said morosely. “Only the good die young – in which case you could be stuck with me for quite a few years yet.”

He laughed and hugged her.

“I sincerely hope so. No one else makes me smile the way you do. Give me your glass. Watch the news and then we’ll order up a takeaway.”

“For the boys too?”

“It’ll cost me several arms and a leg but yes, the boys can have takeaway too. I’ll lay money on it that they won’t both want the same thing, and I’ll have to go to at least three different takeaways to make everyone happy though.”

Sally smiled and leaned back in the chair whilst Ed went off to ascertain the needs of her boys – who weren’t really boys anymore. Her eldest had started university but was home for a couple of days, whilst her younger son had decided that the academic life wasn’t for him and had dropped out of ‘A’ levels shortly after she had been suspended.

It had been something of a shock for all of them; after the book being a limited success Sally had thought that she could slide quietly into self-employment aided by the generous settlement from John. To find that John was leaving to go to elsewhere, and that his arrangement was withdrawn by his second in command Michael, had been of great concern, especially when it was announced that rather than having her contract quietly terminated, she was now dismissed for gross misconduct. A series of investigatory meetings followed, overseen by a senior manager from another department who was supposed to be impartial and unknown to Sally but who had showed her personal bias from day one.

The meetings seemed endless; notes were taken by the glowering Karen, deeply annoyed at actually having to do some work for a change. As a consequence of her resentment, the notes were very poor, and in no way reflected what was actually said during the meeting. Sally tried to defend herself; Ruby was allowed to come to the meetings with her as a supporter, but she wasn’t supposed to say anything and the investigation officer was under the impression that Ruby had a hand in the book anyway. It didn’t help that Susie had been a great friend of hers as well. Susie, whose husband had left her after reading the book, sold up and taken their youngest son to live in Australia, leaving Susie to move to a tiny rented house, and the kind of ignominy she had always dreaded.

Sally had tried everything. She had her own solicitors, who were working on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis, and consequently had no sense of urgency whatsoever. She had consulted with local councillors, but they were fairly ignorant of the set policies and procedures, and easily swayed by senior management orders. Sally’s local MP had proved more helpful but there was a limit to how much he could do before the councillors – who were of a different political persuasion – started being obstructive towards him as well.

She appealed against her dismissal and the day before the hearing she received a call from Gavin Slime, offering her a compromise agreement.

“I already had one.” she said tersely. “John had it drawn up before he left.”

“Ah yes, but things have changed.”

She disliked the tone of Gavin’s voice. She found it oily and unctuous. He suggested that she abandon the appeal or at least cancel it for now, and let him talk to ACAS to try and sort things out.

In the back of Sally’s mind there was a vague memory that ACAS didn’t take kindly to people cancelling or abandoning things, and that this could have financial implications for her. She asked for time to talk to her husband, and whilst she did, she also asked some trusted friends and a conciliator from ACAS. The advice was unanimous. Whatever you do, don’t abandon the appeal!

She spoke to Gavin later that day and repeated the advice about financial implications. Sally could tell by the way his voice changed that he knew about the penalties of cancelling and had been trying to trick her into submitting. She told him that she felt it would be discourteous to cancel at such a late date. He did not sound very pleased with her answer.

The next morning, Sally was up early and on opening her emails, discovered that she had a new follower on Twitter. This would have been a pleasant surprise normally, but the new follower was Gavin Slime and the email confirming her new follower had been sent through at twenty-five past three in the morning.

Sally felt grubby.

She couldn’t make up her mind whether Gavin Slime was following her because he fancied her, because he was trying to find out information on her, or because he was trying to intimidate her. Whatever his reason – she blocked him and printed off the email to take with her to the meeting.

Not surprisingly, the meeting did not go well. Sally decided to tell the appeal panel that Gavin Slime had tried to get her to cancel the meeting the day before. She also decided to tell them about the Twitter email.  She should have saved her breath. The councillors present were so ignorant of social media that the implications of his actions were totally lost on them. They stared blankly at her whilst she tried to explain, and they kept asking the solicitor, Michael and Margaret for advice. Margaret of course, had been wearing the dead cat jacket in order to impose her superiority over everyone, except Michael who sat stony-faced throughout the proceedings.  He wouldn’t meet Sally’s eye at all.  She decided that this was due to a guilty conscience as they’d always got on so well in the past.

Gavin Slime sat at the head of the table smiling in his oily fashion and knowing that Sally was wasting her time. Eventually, the solicitor asked her if she would be willing to be reinstated and return to her former post.  Sally told him that she wouldn’t work for the local authority again if it was the last thing she ever did.  He then advised her that the appeal had two options, reinstatement or continued dismissal. Although the evidence was very thin, and even the police had agreed that she had not committed any crimes as far as they could see., Sally’s appeal was dismissed due to her refusal to return.  This decision was accompanied by self-satisfied smirks from Michael, Margaret and Gavin.

As Sally got up to leave, she looked at the three of them.

“This is not over,” she said, desperately trying to stay calm.  “I will not be harassed by you or anyone.  I detest bullying and this will be part of the grounds for my ACAS appeal against unfair dismissal.”

Despite her parting shot, Sally was so frustrated by the whole process that she kicked a wall as she walked out at the end of the meeting. Not an important wall, just one in the corridor. No real damage was done, just a scuff mark on the white emulsion. Ruby propelled her out of the building and into the courtyard before she could actually do any damage to Slime, Michael, Margaret, or any of the councillors. They walked to the car, arm in arm, and all Sally wanted to do was to get away, as far away from the town hall as possible.

Safe at last in a family pub up the road from her house, Sally took a deep gulp of her healing red wine and finally began to relax. They talked it through, and Ruby assured her that she hadn’t been too bad; had hardly sworn and that only the wall got kicked. Over scampi and chips, they put the world to rights until Ed left work and joined them to commiserate.

There had been an earlier suggestion that Sally quietly resigned and received her three months’ pay in lieu of notice, but that went out the window when Michael pointed out that the local authority had an obligation to the people of the town to save money wherever possible – and that included any of Sally’s agreements.

Ben was able to provide a little emotional compensation however when he phoned that night; he had overheard a conversation between Gavin and Margaret when they returned form the meeting.  Margaret was not happy about Gavin’s attempts at getting Sally to drop the appeal, that there had still been the opportunity for Sally to return to work, in HER office of all places, and that Gavin’s attempt to follow Sally on Twitter had been exposed in the middle of the meeting.

Ben did his best to look busy, but the whole office was then witness to Karen getting a particularly brutal earbashing from Gavin over the appalling quality of her disciplinary meeting notes.

“If you had actually paid attention during those meetings, we wouldn’t be in the position we are in now, you stupid woman! We had twenty allegations to uphold the gross misconduct suspension. Twenty! Sally managed to dismiss eighteen of those because the policies and procedures hadn’t even been written prior to her suspension.  You should have known that right from the start, as yours is one of the names attached to the provisional agreement.  All we have on her now is that fact that she disclosed information about the local authority to a third party, and disrespect shown to senior management.  You are on a written warning, as are your two silly friends whose names are also mentioned, and your manager because she signed the procedures off as well. Get back to your desk and get some work done.  Sally is going for an employment tribunal against unfair dismissal, and I want everything sewn up as tightly as possible.”

Although the verbal warning took place in Gavin’s office, the partitions were very thin and largely made of safety glass, so everyone heard what was said. Fiona and Cheryl were visibly shaken, and Fiona was very quick to say that as contracts were her responsibility, she shouldn’t have to take the blame for incompetence on the part of Cheryl and Karen.  Gavin overheard this comment as he opened the office door to let a sobbing Karen escape to the toilets.

“There is nothing to be smug about Fiona.  One of the other issues that arose in the appeal meeting is that Sally had never received a contract for her last two posts, and didn’t even get acceptance letters.  From what I can see, hers is not an isolated case. That kind of sloppiness is what gives HR a bad reputation; isn’t that right Ben?”

Ben nodded in agreement, knowing that keeping in with Gavin was of prime importance.  Gavin approached the desk that Ben and Peter shared.

“Peter, I want you to draw up a spreadsheet of all the outstanding contracts and acceptance letters so that Fiona has a better idea of her workload.  Ben, your task is a bit more complex; I need to see all the policies and procedures that Mandy, Karen and Cheryl have passed in the…last eighteen months? I also need to know the names of any other managers that have passed documentation that is flawed or incomplete.  You can do that can’t you?”

“Yes Gavin, I would need a higher level of systems access than I’ve got at the moment.”

Gavin frowned and turned towards Joanna.

“Get that sorted now, Joanna.  Unlimited access for Ben as soon as possible, and tell IT that I won’t be fobbed off with excuses, I know just how quickly these things can be sorted out.”

Joanna was on the phone immediately.  Karen returned to her desk red eyed, snivelling and completely blanked by her two colleagues.

“There will be no more long lunches for you three.  I am having the clocking in and out systems revised so that you won’t be able to cheat the system anymore.”

The icing on the cake came with Joanna receiving a message that Mandy had returned from holiday but had been signed off on sick leave.

Ben’s account went some way to easing Sally’s anger, but it also made her even more aware of what a dangerous man Gavin Slime was.  So, it was back to the drawing board, and the prospect of conducting her own defence in an employment tribunal. Looking at the huge pile of paperwork and brown paper envelopes stacked in front of her, Sally pushed them to one side and watched the news. Anything was better than local government bureaucracy.

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