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Posted by: John Brace | 15th September 2015

What would meetings be like at johnbrace.com if it was part of the public sector?

What would meetings be like at johnbrace.com if it was part of the public sector?

Charles Dance as Lord Vetinari in Terry Pratchett's Going Postal who would've felt right at home in the sort of public sector described below not as the politician but as the Shadowy-powers-that-be

Charles Dance as Lord Vetinari in Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal who would’ve felt right at home in the sort of public sector described below not as the politician but as the Shadowy-powers-that-be

The below is meant as satire, but it’s based in part on true life events.

Editor John Brace: Oh boy, as if I don’t spend enough of my life in meetings already!!!

Shadowy powers-that-be: You called the meeting, so don’t be flippant with us. Wait a bit, there’s not enough people here to be quorate, technical is running late.

Technical: Sorry for being late, not only was the bus I had to get here running late (as we don’t get expenses for a car any more), but I had the sign the visitors book as I don’t work in this building. Then I had to be issued with a visitor’s pass (the reception desk had run out and told me I’m not allowed to be in the building without wearing one).

Then I had to have my bags searched (apparently this is a "secure building"), explain the meaning of every electronic device on me (which took at least fifteen minutes), then I had to wait an age for someone to escort me down twenty feet of corridor (even though I know where I’m going and I’ve been here a hundred times already). To add insult to injury the magnetic locks on the door to this room have failed and don’t work properly (because the software has crashed)

Crashed software on panel next to door for room meeting is held in

Crashed software on panel next to door for room meeting is held in

so you need to have the strength of Samson to prise open the door! Sadly as we’re the overworked public sector we don’t have the staff resource available to fix it or even the time to send a message to whoever is responsible to do it.

Editor John Brace: As yes but let’s get down to the agenda, the blog is nearly full. By the way why is the ceiling dripping water?

Shadowy powers-that-be: Oh the rebuild and management of the building got outsourced to the private sector. The contractors after they got the contract said the subcontractors couldn’t do it for the money quoted so the contract was changed at their request.

So in the end we just caved in to substandard work and now the air conditioning unit gives us a new feature the workers have nicknamed "indoor rain". All rather like that TV show Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell except it doesn’t require a magic spell? It’s either that or turn the air conditioning off (which makes it hard to breathe).

Editor John Brace: Well as long as it doesn’t drip on me, it’s make my writing smudge in my notebook but someone will have to get a bucket!

Shadowy powers-that-be (changing seats in an attempt to avoid getting wet from the drips): OK, (by a subtle hand gesture sends an underling to find a bucket) full, what do you mean full???

Editor John Brace: Full as in there’s a 3 gigabyte limit on it and as it started in October 2010, 74% of the space is already used. There are things that haven’t been published because of lack of available space.

Shadowy powers-that-be: Why not use spare space on the ( *this information has been redacted because of s.43 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (commercial sensitivity)) domain?

Editor John Brace: Not considered to be good practice, anyway that’s pretty full too.

Shadowy powers-that-be: We’ll refer to technical section then for options.

Technical: Well your options are you can either upgrade to ( this information has been redacted because of s.43 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (commercial sensitivity)) or switch to self-hosting. The former costs ( this information has been redacted because of s.43 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (commercial sensitivity)) and gives another 10 gigabytes of space. If you wanted it self-hosted it would depend on the provider how much space you got but might be more than that.

Editor John Brace: I’d prefer the flexibility of self-hosted.

Advertising: So would we! We could sell advertising then and make more money!!!

Editor John Brace: It’s not supposed to be about the money!

Advertising: Pah, you artists, what do you know about making money, we have families to feed you know!

Human Resources: But is John trained for this, what if it all went wrong?

Editor John Brace: I have fourteen years of experience running websites and see HR treats me like I’m a 16 year old GCSE student here on work experience!

If you insist, add it as a risk to the risk register if you’re going to be like that! 😛 I really would like to have some time today to actually write something on the blog. Is there anything else?

Shadowy powers-that-be: Oh yes and by the way John we’ve had to freeze your pay, but the Chief Executive gets an automatic £5,000 pay rise each year.

Editor John Brace: What? Did I miss something?

Shadowy powers-that-be: Oh you don’t get consulted on meetings that agree such things as it’s an HR (Human Resources) matter.

Editor John Brace: An HR matter? mutters to the trade union rep sitting next to him

Trade Union Rep: We fully agree with management that people should be paid appropriately!

Editor John Brace: Appropriately!!!? The Chief Executive’s on more than the Prime Minister (and rising)!

Shadowy powers-that-be: Well when he leaves, feel free to apply for his job if you think you’re up to it.

Editor John Brace: Let’s just go to the last agenda item, complaints about comments on the blog.

Trade Union Rep: How dare anyone criticise the hard-working public sector workers!!!?

Editor John Brace: We’re supposed to be here to serve the public, not to come across as a parody of militant 1970s trade unions.

Trade Union Rep: OK, but our workers are under pressure. We could even go on strike if things don’t improve!

Editor John Brace: There are contingency plans in place these days to ensure service continuity even if a strike happens.

Trade Union Rep: Well you certainly read the management memos don’t you!? What about supporting your hard working public sector trade unions? Morale isn’t good and as strikes don’t seem to work any more, we might just try work to rule.

Editor John Brace: I thought (as demonstrated from many, many stories I’ve written over the years) that the public sector had consistently shown over many years it didn’t know what the rules, regulations and laws it operated under were, so instead you just "make it up as you go along".

So how if you don’t know the rules can you "work to rule"?

Trade Union Rep: It’s negative talk like that, attacking the professionalism of our workers which is why you have such a poor reputation John! It’s our job to criticise and stand up for the workers, not yours! I mean seriously, our workers can’t know everything! That’s obviously a training issue and the fault therefore lies with an under resourced human resources department and the employer.

Human Resources: Don’t blame us, we just do what we’re told!

Shadowy powers-that-be: John does have a point though and you’ve got to admit although annoying at times he does try to be thorough and fair. This country is supposed to be a democracy so he’s perfectly entitled to do things as he sees fit. However back to complaints.

Editor John Brace: The number of complaints about comments on the blog has fallen.

Shadowy powers-that-be: A fall from what to what?

Editor John Brace: Well from memory there were two last year. Nobody has complained this year, but one author has asked for two to be removed because of a (redacted because of s.42 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (legal professional privilege)) matter which means it’s sub judice until the (redacted because of s.42 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (legal professional privilege)) Tribunal has taken place.

Trade Union Rep: See there you go again John, showing off that you studied Latin at school and using phrases like sub judice. Why can’t you just use ordinary phrases that everybody knows round here like "I’m off down to the pub for a drink, does anyone want to come?"

Editor John Brace: Because as you know, I don’t drink alcohol like some people do round here.

At the word alcohol, a politician enters and the room falls deathly silent.

Councillor (name redacted because of s.40 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (personal information)): Hi everybody, just popping in to say what a great job you all do. So what are you all discussing?

Shadowy powers-that-be: We were just discussing the blog and the Youtube channel, which is two of the ways we tell the public about the decisions that councillors like yourself make.

Councillor (name redacted because of s.40 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (personal information)): Ahh yes, John Brace and his TV-thingummy. Marvellous, I really don’t understand how it works myself but the blog and the TV-thingummy is really marvellous at informing the party members what we’re doing. Keeps us on our toes!

Shadowy powers-that-be: Thank you for your comments Councillor (name redacted because of s.40 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (personal information)), but as you know I and most of the people in this meeting are in politically restricted posts, therefore we cannot comment on party political matters.

Councillor (name redacted because of s.40 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (personal information)): Ahh ok, sorry. Anyway as you know I’m very busy, it’s been wonderful seeing what your meeting is like but I have to go fill out some expenses claims.

The politician leaves.

Editor John Brace: Now you know why I have massive job security!!!!

Shadowy powers-that-be: You’re seem to be implying that if some politicians weren’t highly Machiavellian, manipulative people so interested in taking the credit for other people’s work, blaming a scapegoat (instead of taking responsibility) when things go wrong, overly interested in criticising the other political parties and their politicians, busy claiming expenses, pretending they have powers that they don’t legally have and instead did things in the public interest that you’d be out of a job?

Editor John Brace: In a nutshell yes, but some politicians are far better than others.

Shadowy powers-that-be: Oh boy, that really sounds like pot calling the kettle black as according to your file, you do realise you were a politician (or holder of public office) once don’t you?

Editor John Brace: That’s exactly why I know what they’re like! I was only for two one year terms of office representing ~17,000 students at a university. I can’t say I was particularly good at it! While I was there someone had the call to refer to me as a "bureaucrat". I mean seriously a "bureaucrat", just because I insisted on a completed health and safety risk assessment!

It was student politics at university when I was in my mid-20s, but there are times I miss teaching the post graduate students and spending long hours in the university library. Those were simpler, happier times in academia. Politics is very different.

Perhaps that’s partly shaped me into the person I am today though as I was trained to follow the Nolan principles of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

Shadowy powers-that-be: We run training courses for the politicians here on the same principles, but as it’s not mandatory (it’s very hard to force a politician to do anything anyway) so not many turn up.

Editor John Brace: Hence my comment about job security. I have massive job security. I’ll never run out of public sector problems to write about!

Shadowy powers-that-be: Of course from the public sector’s perspective at times you are the problem John! You do realise what a "drain on resources" you are?

Editor John Brace: Imagine if I didn’t do what I did then! Imagine how expensive it would be then! Mere trifles of mistakes would be missed, not corrected and before you know it you’re ending up paying a six-figure sum to a consultant to write a report to tell everyone what they know already! Transparency always has a price yes, but good decision-making is priceless.

Getting the decision right the first time saves thousands (or even tens or hundreds of thousands) of pounds later having to correct it or the financial costs of dealing with the consequences of bad decisions (such as planning appeals, judicial review etc).

Shadowy powers-that-be: But the politicians really hate it when you point out that there are multiple secret expense systems running (that a C-level decision has been made to deliberately not tell the public about) that to be honest even you shouldn’t even know about! I mean that sort of information is supposed to be restricted to far above your pay grade!

Some of the politicians on the grapevine got told that you’re not a proper journalist so their let their guard down and nearly choked on their cornflakes when you started publishing their expenses!

Editor John Brace: I’m unusual yes. Unlike the newspapers, I’ve specialised in local political reporting with a bit of court reporting too. The term is "new media journalist", although you can also use blogger (even though I’m not too keen on the term). As I also run the Youtube channel that would make me "broadcast journalist" too.

No I think what the politicians have got used to are newspaper journalists and rarely local radio or TV who don’t get be wrong do a good job but in the main are under too much time pressure to spend months of investigative journalism on a story.

Newspaper journalists turn up to public meetings when they’re invited and write about one particular item that they’re asked to. Then it appears in the newspaper and also on the newspaper’s website. That to me sounds more like proactive public relations than holding the powers that be to account.

Investigative journalism seems to be (sadly) a dying art in this country and one investigative journalist is probably enough to give many politicians nightmares.

Anyway MP’s expenses are published so why not councillors too? Why shouldn’t the public be able to see what they’re claiming in allowances and expenses (after all it’s the public money that they’re spending) and why do public bodies break the law and deliberately understate on their website the annual amounts for councillors (in breach of the regulations)?

Shadowy powers-that-be: Yes, I have no doubt that it was a story in the public interest. But you brought up the discrepancies between the figures for councillor’s allowances and expenses in the draft statement of accounts compared to what was being stated!

You exposed multiple secret expenses system! Councillor Niblock has been seen getting a lift to a meeting rather than a taxi! Your journalism is leading to changes in politicians’ behaviour and that is dangerous!

Editor John Brace: Well isn’t that good as it saves the public sector money?

Shadowy powers-that-be: Good for your reputation as a journalist maybe, but we think you’re being too militant about it, you’re driving up public sector audit costs and not being diplomatic towards the politicians. I mean making an objection about the accounts to the auditor because they don’t add up! I mean seriously!? When have public sector accounts ever added up?

Editor John Brace: Well they should add up!

Shadowy powers-that-be: In an ideal world yes, but management made a decision that to a proper job with the accounts would be an "unreasonable use of scarce resources". Politicians made it clear to us to cut the back office jobs like payroll (but not councillor expenses we’ve protected that spending), accounting and legal, so that’s the reason why!

Editor John Brace: So you’re saying, people above my pay grade deliberately turned a blind eye to multiple secret expenses system for paying expenses to politicians that was deliberately understating the true amounts that the public wasn’t to know about? This was all done to "protect frontline staff"?

Shadowy powers-that-be: Yes. On the instructions of the politicians.

Editor John Brace:: So why wasn’t I told?

Shadowy powers-that-be: Because it was supposed to be a secret.

Editor John Brace:: But it’s unlawful, contrary to the Local Authorities (Members’ Allowances) (England) Regulations 2003!

Shadowy powers-that-be: Well there you go again, doesn’t your legal department ever just take the a day off!? You must have more legal people on your payroll than we do!

Yes that’s why it was meant to be kept a secret. It was fine as it was because nobody outside knew about it. Until you opened your great big mouth and told the public! Are you a manager or a journalist?

Editor John Brace: Both.

Shadowy powers-that-be: So who’s your line manager?

Editor John Brace: I don’t have one.

Shadowy powers-that-be: Well if you had a line manager, you’d realise that the politicians answer to the people and senior management answer to the politicians. Senior management do not like being made redundant (at the instructions of a politician)! Apparently you don’t answer to anybody!

Editor John Brace: I prefer it that way, concepts like editorial independence and freedom of the press may sound old-fashioned but it’s better that way. I’m answerable to my wife!

Shadowy powers-that-be: We’re all answerable to our wives but that’s not the point!

Editor John Brace: Anyway, this meeting has gone on far too long. It’s time I got back to writing!

If you click on any of the buttons below, you’ll be doing me a favour by sharing this article with other people.


Responses

  1. Wonderul!

    • Thanks for the kind word you had to write about it. Sadly a lot of it is based on true events!

  2. Brilliant John you say it as it is , an awesome piece of journalism. I love ” The Shadowy Powers That Be” name redacted for whatever & the councillor off to fill out their expenses. This article will stay in my favourites for ever & has reduced my blood pressure only when I stopped laughing, Cheers for now mate keep up the good work.

    • Thanks John,

      I’m glad it lowered your blood pressure as I would guess that most of what I write about has the opposite effect!

      I’m flattered that you’ve favourited/bookmarked it and your kind words encourage me to write something similar again in the future.

      All the best,

      The other John.

  3. Hee hee, brilliant! At least as funny as the comedy I watched tonight!

    • And you didn’t even have to pay a TV licence for it (just Council Tax)!

      On the plus side, I think last night went smoother than the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority meeting of the June 30th.

      I don’t quite understand the reasoning behind delaying it to hear from MFRS officers. Surely as the matter has been decided by the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority, it’s up to the MFRA councillors to do this?

      As this is a party political issue now the senior management of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service are restricted in law from commenting on the political matters and their advice has to been seen to be impartial. The Chief Fire Officer is a politically restricted post, so was Kieran Timmins’ post as Deputy Chief Executive (before the post was deleted).

      That’s why one of the 4 Wirral representatives on the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority is nominated to answer questions from councillors (and members of the public) during public meetings.

      It’s perhaps another reason why it would be better to have notices of motion debated at Council as it used to be (as all the councillors would be there) rather than referred to committees.

      However, I’m glad you saw the funny side! I’ve started writing it up at Why did Councillor Blakeley ask councillors to block a fire station in Saughall Massie?.

      • Please don’t tell me that we’ve paid for the expenses of these MFRA members to; fail to inform Dan Stephens that he would need to speak at this meeting and/or fail in their duty to answer any questions from councillors or members of the public in his absence?

        Oops, sorry, my mistake. It wasn’t a public meeting, it was a “private meeting held in public”. So, members of the public were excluded anyway!


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