Wirral Council Employee Survey 2013: Industrial relations: a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma
One of the quandaries you face in the press is just what you do over leaked documents. When I was working in print it was easy, the procedure was everything just had to be double sourced. With Wirral Council that has in the past often caused problems as two bits of Wirral Council would flat-out contradict each other over the same facts!
The particular document I am referring to is the Ipsos Mori “Wirral Council Employee Survey 2013”. This contains such classic lines such as:
“The contents of this report are of a commercially sensitive and confidential nature and intended solely for the review and consideration of the person or entity to which it is addressed. No other use is permitted and the addressee undertakes not to disclose all or part of this report to any third party (including but not limited, where applicable, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act 2000) without the prior written consent of the Company Secretary of Ipsos MORI.”
Well thank goodness for a s.30 exemption to the copyright laws for the press is all I can say.
In an “open and transparent” public sector, where Wirral Council wanted to show how it had emerged from the nightmare of its past “industrial relations” issues, here’s just one industrial relations issue that would not be happening:
a) employee appeals/grievance hearings of Wirral Council employees now decided by Wirral Council management behind closed doors instead of councillors (unlike other local councils) at public meetings behind closed doors. Yes it was a Labour administration and Labour councillors that decided to change the constitution and go against the trade unions on that one!
b) excessive secrecy on HR matters (but I’m the press and I would say that wouldn’t I?), however it’s not just me but others that state the same thing?
The whole ninety-page document that is the Wirral Council Employee Survey 2013 (before you get to the appendices) is the kind of thing that councillors, the public, employees and others should be able to read, but I’m sure management would rather not like to ever see the light of day.
However considering management’s view on leaks, especially matters that relate to Graham Burgess, I will just remind people of part of the Chief Executive’s job description as Head of Paid Service:
“To act as Head of Paid Service to the Council and to provide workforce leadership for the Council.”
In other words the buck stops at him. OK answerable to the public then are councillors who are Cabinet Members, but from an officer perspective ultimately Graham Burgess (or whoever replaces him after the end of this year) sets the culture of the organisation when it comes to workforce matters.
For example is Wirral Council an organisation where councillors, management and the trade unions work harmoniously in partnership or is it one where senior officers (backed up by councillors) make veiled threats to cancel a meeting because of industrial relations matters in an attempt to somewhat avoid legal protections in order to damage openness and transparency?
It was during Graham Burgess’ tenure as Chief Executive/Head of Paid Service that the changes to the grievance and appeals procedures were changed. One of the reasons given at the time was that with large-scale redundancies, councillors would’ve been snowed under dealing with employee appeals.
That may be a legitimate reason to put forward for the change (and yes I have heard at least one former councillor moan during a public meeting about how terribly long-winded some employee appeals/grievances were). However taking councillors out of grievance appeals meant that any future whistleblowers would only be heard by management. Then management have a vested interest in making sure issues are resolved behind the scenes (such as paying off whistleblowers to leave and keep quiet) and then the underlying issues are not talked about by councillors in public meetings (making life easier for management) or indeed written about in the press.
I think it is about time I published some of the Human Resources related invoices to do with Employment Tribunals and employee issues so that the public can see how expensive to the public purse it is to not have effective internal processes to deal with employee matters. Previously such procedures (despite their flaws) relied not on the more independent decisions of councillors but now it’s purely officers who decide instead. I’m not saying councillors would make decisions that were less likely to result in large expensive legal bills, it’s just I personally disagree (a rare political point on my part) with the lack of political oversight in employee matters as it means councillors are less likely to know what’s going on.
I fully realise matters have been dealt with behind closed doors, but there is a point where too much secrecy can be counter productive in the public sector as it results in no one being personally accountable for the results of their actions.
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