Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Protect Yourself At Work

If you are in employment, it makes sense to protect yourself. Things happen, often out of the blue, and the best time to do this is before anything happens that makes you even think about it. Here are a few things you can do:

1 Make sure you have a copy of your contract of employment (or more precisely, before my HR friends jump on me, the statement of particulars of your contract.) It's quite possible it won't be up to date. If that's the case, ask for an updated version - you are legally entitled to one.

2 Pull together your appraisal reports, probation reports, training records, any letters of commendation (or criticism), thank you cards, grievances, disciplinaries: anything, in fact, that is evidence of your 'standing' with your employer

3 Keep all of these things - or a copy of them - at home. Should the day ever come when you get into difficulties, or just get made redundant, it is quite possible you won't have access to your desk, files, computer, mobile phone etc and will be escorted off the premises, with your personal belongings following in a carrier bag.

4 If you have any 'difficult conversations' with your managers, make a file note as quickly as possible after the event. Don't embellish, or give a one-sided account, just write down exactly what was said. Keep it, and any correspondence that may be involved, at home.

5 If you belong to a Trade Union, make sure you know who to contact, again bearing in mind that you may well be off the premises with no access to the internal phone directory. Keep this information at home. If you're not in a union, decide now who you're going to ask to help and advise you. Remember that some organisations will only allow you to be represented by a union rep or a fellow employee, so if your first thought is 'get an expensive solicitor', check whether he/she would be allowed across the threshold.

6 If you are suspended, you will probably be told not to contact anyone in the organisation. Make sure that the specifics of this are made clear - what about friends, social events, potential witnesses, union reps etc?

6 Save this post somewhere!

I really hope that none of this is ever relevant to you, but if it is, I hope it helps. Feel free to share.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

MPs - what's yours worth?

The hysterical press reaction to a proposal to increase the salary of MPs after the 2015 election explains exactly why we have got in a mess with this issue.

For decades, all governments have dodged the issue of setting a salary for MPs that reflects the level of responsibility they have in the (accurate) belief that there would be an outcry if they tried to do so. Instead, they allowed to develop a ‘wink and a nudge’ expenses system, the horrendous excesses of which don’t need to be rehearsed here, but you may remember second home flipping, duck houses, drained moats, dog food and dirty films. Many less-than-honourable members had to pay back significant sums and a few (some would say not enough) even ended up getting up close and personal with the prison system.

So after that scandal, Parliament decided in 2009 to take itself out of the process altogether, and set up the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to determine salaries, expenses and pension arrangements. IPSA has now done what it’s paid to do, and come up with a proposal following research and consultation, that MPs salaries should be increased by about 10% after the next election. There will also be some changes to expenses and pensions to offset in part the additional cost.

Politicians – many of them privately very wealthy –  are queuing up to deplore these proposals. Of course they are not in a position to turn the proposals down, because they took themselves out of the decision making process. This situation has led various tweeters to criticise the Prime Minister for lacking authority/backbone/both. I would refer such critics to the Law of Unintended Consequences. If you give power away, the people you give it to may come to decisions with which you disagree.

Imagine the furore if IPSA had concluded that MPs were, in fact, overpaid, and proposed a 10% reduction. Would these same politicians be so keen to appear on TV saying they wouldn’t accept IPSA’s findings? I very much doubt it. And the howls of media derision would turn to paeans of praise.

So here are my thoughts on this thorny topic:

The salary paid to politicians should be a fair reflection of the level of responsibility they take and appropriate comparators. Calls for payment by performance are nonsense. That is judged through the ballot box, and the power of recall if it ever gets enacted. I don’t know what that salary level is: that’s why we have IPSA. Personally, I wouldn’t be unhappy if that salary level was £100k, but with strings attached, which I’m coming on to.

Once set, the pay of MPs should be adjusted annually in line with whatever comparator group is identified. The Civil Service is the obvious one, but their may be others.

While no-one wants politicians who are motivated solely by the salary, if we want intelligent and capable people to run the country they must be properly remunerated. Former GP Dr Sarah Woollaston MP has said that she took a £40k a year pay cut to become an MP – not many will be that altruistic. And although I do understand that for the majority of the population a salary of £66k is a king’s ransom, for a large number it really isn’t. Some of the journalists baying for IPSA blood wouldn’t get out of bed for £66k. If salary levels are not right, we will end up with a House of Commons made up of the very poor and the very rich.

Everyone who works for an employer is entitled not to be out of pocket for doing their jobs. There is nothing wrong with a properly managed scheme of expenses to reimburse costs incurred wholly and necessarily incurred in the course of their duties, and those calling for MPs to bear all of their own costs are being disingenuous.

Being an MP should be a full time job with proper office hours. It shouldn’t be a hobby or an act of philanthropy. It is not acceptable for MPs to spend their mornings in court or running businesses and then popping into the House for a few hours. The level of pay should reflect that.

The rules on conflict of interest need to be thoroughly examined. The scandal of the number of politicians with business interests in the private health sector, for example, should never be allowed to happen again.

So there you have it. I realise that this will not be a popular view but it’s how I see it. Feel free to disagree!

Friday, 5 July 2013

It's all in the question...

Two Roman Catholic men were having a vigorous discussion in a pub. They were debating whether smoking was a sin or not. They decided to write to the Bishop and ask him to settle the matter.

John wrote first, and asked this question: “Bishop, is it a sin to smoke a cigarette while I’m saying my prayers?”  The Bishop wrote back swiftly, saying, “Yes, of course it is. When you’re praying you must focus on your prayers.”

Alan wrote the next week, putting the question slightly differently: “Bishop, is it a sin if I pray to God while I’m having a cigarette?” The Bishop was quick to reassure him, writing, “No, it is not. We should take every opportunity to pray to the Lord.”

As on so many occasions, the answer you get depends on the question you ask and, of course, who you ask.

Every day the media carries the results of some new survey, usually revealing some ‘shocking’ new insight into public opinion. Unless the survey has been carried out by a reputable pollster, and more often it’s some glossy magazine trying to boost their sales, we should be very sceptical, and always ask ourselves “What was the question, and who did they ask?

On a related matter, news stories often include headline statistics which, on further investigation, may not be all that they seem. For example, some newspapers specialise in telling us which products cause, or don’t cause cancer. So a headline that reads “Eating butter increases cancer risk by 20%” (I’m making that up, of course) would be pretty startling, and not a little frightening.

However, if you found out that the cancer in question currently had a risk rate of 1 in 100, and that eating butter might increase your risk to 1.2 in 100, you might be a little less startled.

The old saw that there are lies, damned lies and statistics doesn’t have to be true, if you question everything you read before believing it.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Sentencing is for the courts, not for public opinion

Dear TV news programmes. 

Please stop asking the relatives of murder victims what they think of the prison sentences served by murderers. They will almost always say they are not long enough, and may or may not support the death penalty. This isn't surprising, and they cannot be criticised for the fact that their opinion is informed by grief and anger. However, they are not experts in either the practice of the law or the study of criminology.

Sentences are properly determined by the courts, in accordance with the law of the land. Come the day when they are determined by tabloid headlines, politicians, public opinion, or by the families of victims, we will be well on the way to losing our right to calling ourselves a civilised society.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

All Prime Ministers should be treated equally

If there is one day in all our lives on which we are entitled to expect unqualified praise, then surely it is the day of our funeral.

Who amongst us would anticipate, on that day, people to say ‘he was a nice chap, but made some stupid decisions and not many people liked him’ or ‘nice woman, but she was really rude and screwed up badly at work’?

So let it be for Baroness Thatcher. This is not the day to examine her record as Prime Minister, about which anyone who lived through the era will have strong views, either for or against. That’s not to say I won’t return to this at a later date.

No; what I want to consider is the appropriateness of her ceremonial funeral, with military honours, largely funded by the nation (us). I have read, but failed to grasp, the distinction between what happened this morning and a state funeral.  It was certainly the only funeral of a former Prime Minister attended by the Queen since that of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965, and few would begrudge Sir Winston the unique honour of his state funeral.

However, I believe that the decision taken by the Queen upon the advice, we are led to believe, of Gordon Brown, to grant Lady Thatcher a funeral of the same status as that of the Queen Mother and the Princess of Wales, raises a serious constitutional issue.

There have always been great Prime Ministers, average Prime Ministers and some who frankly will scarcely trouble the computer keyboards of future historians, and hopefully, as long as we have a democracy, there always will be. We, the voters, will decide which is which.

And that’s the point. The voters, not the monarch, are empowered to discern the wheat from the chaff. As soon as the sovereign head of state starts to decide that one Prime Minister is greater than another – in this case greater than all but one – we are on a slippery slope. One of the principal justifications of a constitutional monarch is her/his political neutrality, their ability to deal with Labour and Conservative leaders and to ‘treat those two imposters just the same’. I felt the same unease at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, when Tony Blair – Prime Minister for a decade – was disgracefully omitted from the guest list when all other serving Prime Ministers were invited.

Once the Queen gives the appearance of being politically biased, it must fundamentally change the relationship between her and future Prime Ministers of all hues. And that would be bad for the country.

Now that the pomp and circumstance – immaculately executed as always –is  over, a protocol needs to be drawn up on how the deaths of current or former Prime Ministers should be handled in future. I don’t mind particularly what send-off is decided upon by those democratically elected to make such judgments, but what is essential is that they all get the same treatment. That’s what democracy is about.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Shirker or worker?

I spent most of this afternoon filling in a 20 page ATOS medical questionnaire, on the basis of which a decision will be made whether my wife, who has advanced dementia and epilepsy, should stop getting DLA and be told to look for a job. Shirker or worker? ATOS will decide.

While doing this, I had to listen to my wife shouting angrily and incomprehensibly to no-one in the next room. Then I had to break off to comfort her as she sobbed when the reality of how ill she is occasionally dawns on her. And again to take her to the toilet because she can't remember where it is or what to do when she gets there.

There must be a better way. A diagnosis of dementia and epilepsy, supported by a GP's letter, should surely be enough to enable ATOS to do Iain Duncan Smith's dirty work?

It doesn't surprise me that so many people drop their benefit claim rather than go through a stressful assessment, but please don't assume it's because there's nothing wrong with them.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

I've got a little list...

Here's my list - please add your own or suggest improvements.

If some day it should happen that a bastard must be found,
I’ve got a little list, I’ve got a little list
Of coalition partners who might well be underground,
And who never would be missed;
They’d none of them be missed.

The irritating Gove whose features all desire to slap
Who interferes with schools and is a most annoying chap
He thinks he’s mastered teaching more than those who qualified
He chops and changes subjects so that all are mystified
But he backed down on the E-Bacc when all others did insist.
He never would be missed, I’m sure he’d not be missed.

He's got 'em on the list — he's got 'em on the list;
And they'll none of 'em be missed — they'll none of 'em be missed. 

The poor thank Iain Duncan-Smith for having much less cash
They say they feel much better as they share their ‘tater ‘ash
As they’re queuing for the food bank they all have a sense of doom
About what to do with Granny now they don’t have a spare room
Then they limp off for their medical as the Government insist
He never would be missed, no he never would be missed

He's got him on the list — he's got him on the list;
And they'll none of 'em be missed — they'll none of 'em be missed. 

The new health secretary the egregious Mr Hunt
Is generally perceived to be a nasty little man
He’s selling off the NHS to  private sector mates
So expect far fewer treatments and some much much longer waits
And just hope and pray the doctor will still put you on HIS list
That Hunt will not be missed, I know he won’t be missed

He's got 'em on the list — he's got 'em on the list;
And they'll none of 'em be missed — they'll none of 'em be missed. 

The number two at Downing Street is really rather thick
Does anybody now admit to “I agree with Nick”?
He sold out all the students and he gave up on the sick
While David Laws was fiddling and Chris Huhne went off to nick
He used to have some principles but they didn’t get too far
But now he has a title and a most impressive car
But it’s ‘on your bike’ the voters up in Sheffield will insist
He’s going on the list, he’s right up on the list

He's got 'em on the list — he's got 'em on the list;
And they'll none of 'em be missed — they'll none of 'em be missed. 

And over the Treasury young Gideon can be found
Struggling on his trust fund which is worth four million pound
He tells the poor they should be looking for a better job
While cutting back their cash and giving tax-cuts to the nobs
As he criticises skivers for not doing the right thing
He might have been a king-maker but never will be king
‘Cos off with him the country is considerably pissed!
He’s straight upon the list, he’s deffo on the list

He's got 'em on the list — he's got 'em on the list;
And they'll none of 'em be missed — they'll none of 'em be missed. 

And finally the man who sits in charge at number ten,
Through Eton, Oxford, Bullingdon, he is a prince of men
He’s never had a proper job, or paid a mortgage bill
And with him in charge you’d better hope you never do get ill,
Or unemployed or injured or summarily dismissed
Yes he’s heading up the list, at the top of any list.

Well that’s my little list, what a shower of a list,
And they’d NONE of them be missed, they’d none of them be missed.