Deadwood Statement Displays A Contempt for NBC Staff

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Deadwood Statement Displays A Contempt for NBC Staff

It seems that there have always been those who hide behind their position, and especially those who are in a position of authority or influence, who choose to use their position to bully others. And those affected often don’t have the capacity or opportunity to respond.

I have been consistent in making the case for Northampton Borough Council employees to have the right of reply when faced with statements and  accusations made by elected councillors.

After all, if a member of the public makes accusations or statements against staff or councillors that they are unwilling, or unable, to justify with evidence not only will the Council exclude them but, if necessary, take out an injunction to prevent it being repeated.

The definition of a bully is someone who “uses their influence or position to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what they want” and in at least one case in to my knowledge, was expressed in the crass terms that “these people need to be put back in their box”.

A little further research also indicates that often bullies tend to be psychologically insecure, lacking self-esteem and looking constantly for attention and external approval.

The problem, that all local politicians have to deal with, is how to manage and lead a highly professional public service whose experience in implementing policies far outweighs that of the councillors.

The problem for those who lack experience in managing public services comes when they confuse their power with authority. Councillors have the power to make decisions about policy. However these should be made after seeking and listening to the sound advice from professionals, using the authority of their experience.

However, it is sad to see in some cases that experience based advice is viewed as a deliberate attempt to prevent policies being implemented. The advice is intended instead to protect Councillors from poor policy decisions, and taxpayers from paying the price for them.

Of course it is easier in politics, especially local politics, for councillors to cover their mistakes up. Because, after all, there is a ready-made scapegoat available to take the blame in shape of the councils management and staff. More worryingly, it is a loss to the council taxpayer and never to the councillor themselves.

There is no doubt that roles of political leadership require a different way of working than say, running an electoral campaign. And the most important difference is that between the power of position, and true leadership.

When Councillor Terry Wire, Leader of the Borough Council Labour Group, recently called on Councillor David Mackintosh, the Conservative Leader of the Council to apologise for saying that there were to many “over paid and underperforming deadwood managers” at NBC he was basing it on years of experience and understanding of how good management, motivation and leadership of employees drives up performance.

In refusing to apologise, Cllr Mackintosh has not only demonstrated his lack of any real experience of how management and leadership works but actually exacerbated the situation by saying;

“I make no apologies for saying that I am going to weed out the overpaid underperforming deadwood“, without apparently being prepared to say how many and who the alleged ‘deadwood’ are.

Last year, when I asked why the number of senior managers had increased under the Conservative administration, a fact denied by Cllr Mackintosh even though it was in the annual report approved by the full council there was no mention of ‘deadwood’ from the administration.

What the Leader of the Council, supported by all of his Cabinet and his Conservative Councillors on the Borough Council has done, in supporting and reiterating the statement, is to open the way to claims for improved redundancy packages for those senior managers (earning over £50,000), and if the terms are not acceptable there may well be a strong argument for constructive dismissal claims.

Put simply, in 2011/2012 there were 30 senior managers employed by the Northampton Borough Council earning above £50,000, and 2 have taken redundancy and left the organisation since the Leader of the Councils ‘deadwood’ statement.

The question is were either of those who have left considered by Borough Conservatives as ‘over-paid, underperforming deadwood’?

Which of course if, and having worked with them I can say they’re not; then it can only mean that the alleged ‘over-paid, underperforming, deadwood’ is still at the Council. Which means that the percentage of them amongst the senior management team has increased since November 2011?

This then begs further questions; how many are there, who are they and which departments are they in? Finance, Housing, HR, Planning and Regeneration, Environmental Services, Community Engagement????

The problem is that without knowing where the alleged underperforming and, presumably, incompetent people are within the organisation, how can we trust that the advice they are giving is sound?

I’m certain that if I was one of the remaining 28 senior managers I would already have the Conservatives statements on file for when the redundancy letter falls on the mat.

In exercising ‘power of position’ over leadership the Northampton Conservatives have, in my view, chosen the route of the bully and left the Council wide open to claims against it. Given that their ranks include not only two former leaders of the council, but others with wealth of experience in industry, business and management, it is surprising that they all apparently appear to think that the staff at the Borough Council don’t deserve the same level of respect and treatment that they would expect to receive.

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The statement also impacted upon a whole group of hardworking people who have been stigmatised as being ‘over paid and incompetent’ without any recourse to challenge or asking ‘are you talking about me?’ The sort of slur against their professionalism, made by the Leader of the Council, may well be one that has influence on their future employability.

What will actually happen is that those who leave will be given an excellent reference, and so will not have been over-paid, deadwood or underperforming. Which by a simple process of elimination means that the staff who are allegedly not up to the job either will remain, or by not receiving a reference (as giving a bad reference is illegal) will have grounds for constructive dismissal?

The sensible and responsible thing would be for the Leader of the Council and his Cabinet colleagues to reveal who they consider to be the ‘over-paid, underperforming, deadwood’ and accept the consequences, so that the other staff can get on with the job.

There are no indications that they will, as a willingness to concede on issues where they’ve clearly made mistakes hasn’t been one of the strengths of their administration.

If as a result of redundancy there is a claim for constructive dismissal, because of the Conservative Leader of the Councils statements, why should the taxpayer bear the cost?

If it is the Northampton Conservatives approach to power, policy and leadership which has caused this cost, let them be held personally responsible and liable for any costs that may be incurred.

I feel that if the Conservative Councillors suddenly found themselves having to pay the piper, their composition of the tune might be more thoughtful and considerate.

Or at least written in a less divisive key.