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?

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!

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In Ankh-Morpork, Lord Devices discusses the future of Lyndale, leaks, consultation and golf with his minions

In Ankh-Morpork, Lord Devices discusses the future of Lyndale, leaks, consultation and golf with his minions

In Ankh-Morpork, Lord Devices discusses the future of Lyndale, leaks, consultation and golf with a minion


Charles Dance as Lord Vetinari in Terry Pratchett's Going Postal
Charles Dance as Lord Vetinari in Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal

The following is a work of satire.

Deep in the heart of Ankh-Morpok, Lord Devices (who had become Lord a few months after the removal of Lord Fooks a few years before) was meeting with his employees.

“I’m afraid I have bad news your Lordship, the Guild of Lyndale Workers is not happy with your plans to put them out of work and there is outright rebellion among the people against you.”

Lord Devices frowned. He wasn’t used to his employees openly challenging him like this, but had been warned by his advisers in the past to be nice as it was exceedingly expensive not to, even though there were some days they would try the patience of a saint. His short reply was “but we consulted them first didn’t we?”

The minion, looking rather worried that his name would be added to the list of five hundred employees that were getting the chop thought very carefully about how to reply to such a question. “Yes we did, it was a marvellous consultation! We asked people’s opinions far and wide and received nearly a hundred replies.”

Lord Devices looked puzzled, “and we told them all we would be reading the consultation responses too before reaching a decision?”

The minion replied, “Oh yes, we did, albeit after someone gave them the impression we’d made our minds up already.”

Lord Devices frowned, “I thought it was up to me to decide!” starting to look decidedly cross and rather grumpy.

After first retreating a suitable distance the minion said, “Well, unfortunately a rather junior minion gave the public the impression you would just be rubber stamping our previous recommendations to close the school as per your previous decisions in this matter.”

Lord Devices’ voice got louder, “What? Who dared to do this? Who dared to challenge my authority to decide things?”

Careful consideration of what to say next prompted the following response, “Well as you know your Lord, nobody is ever personally accountable here and no names are ever given to the public, but if you wish we will investigate whether we should take disciplinary proceedings against this very junior employee. If anyone asks, we then have a convenient scapegoat.”

There was a pregnant pause followed by “None of your loyal minions would ever do such a thing.” said with a smile as the last sentence was said in an obvious attempt to curry favour in a decidedly difficult situation.

Lord Devices said, “Very well and is there anything else about this Lyndale matter I should know about?”

Thinking on his feet, the minion said, “Well as per ‘instructions’ we argued that the over ten thousand signatures on the petition didn’t comply with our policies and therefore that only a few hundred should be accepted. This led to us being referred to as ‘childish’ in the press by one of the parents.”

Lord Devices said, “Don’t worry about that, only half the city receives that newspaper and many of the people that do, can’t read thanks to our excellent education system. Is there anything else?”

The minion said, “Well, there have been leaks…”

Lord Devices starting to look furious replied, “Leaks! Who’s been leaking stuff?!” as his blood pressure rose to unsafe levels “Really, I thought we’d clamped down on leaks!!! Didn’t we threaten that blogger recently for printing leaks?”

The minion replied, “Well yes we did, but sadly we can’t keep a lid on the whole golf thing now.

The blogger in question seems to know some aspects of the law better than we do. He even took one of those Lib Dems politicians to court and won.”

Lord Devices started beaming at the mention of one of his enemies having to answer to a judge in a courtroom and losing, “You still haven’t mentioned what was leaked. What was it?”

Realising he shouldn’t lie or prevaricate the answer was, “Well there were hundreds and hundreds of documents. In fact so much our press department would go into meltdown and start asking for time off if the public started knowing about them all. One of them relating to Lyndale was that we were paying another school far more per a child than Lyndale which we deliberately failed to mention in our report to you. It’s a school that isn’t earmarked for closure, but is a special school. It makes our arguments about Lyndale being too expensive look a little hollow now.

The blogger also has a year’s worth of legal invoices containing many, many secrets we’d prefer to keep hidden and some very embarrassing invoices relating to an IT contractor.”

Lord Devices frowned and his voice grew a little louder, “and why did nobody try to stop him?”

The minion replied, “We did, we redacted and redacted and redacted! In fact we even we did it so much we had to order more black marker pens (our supplier is now offering us a bulk discount)! The trouble is he’s clever and figures out what has been blacked out. We assume he must be getting some sort of outside help but so far our spies have yet to report back on this.”

Lord Devices said, “So what you’re saying is if the public knew about these things, if the public knew how much we were spending on things we wish to keep a lid on, it would be harder to justify shutting Lyndale?”

The answer given was “Yes, but there is another matter too.”

Lord Devices said, “I hope this is good news.”

The minion said, “Well, we tried to distract the blogger with a report about Fernbank Farm.”

Lord Devices said, “Did this cunning ploy work?”

The reply was “Well he did start writing about Fernbank Farm instead but he’s branched out into satire and wrote about it as a Wild West tale and now people are laughing at us.”

Lord Devices was not amused. “So what you’re basically saying is this. The press have received a large amount of highly sensitive and embarrassing information (including the consultation responses).

Not only are people starting to laugh at us, but employees have started to act like politicians in outright insubordination at my elected authority!

You do realise that now I’m going to get the blame for what’s gone on now? There’s no way my merry band of politicians are going to agree to take the blame for all of this!! It isn’t our fault our instructions were carried out incompetently! We have to face the public in elections next year, you don’t! The Greens won in my ward this year, even my seat isn’t safe any more!”

The minion replied, “Well as usual we have a plan B which we’ve already started on. For the sake of our careers, we’re leaving this now up to you. Politicians come and go, but officers don’t.”

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