I remembered today that in fact I have the power, not my bosses. The longer I stay in the job and with the Civil Service Code case continuing, that power is strengthened. Barbara, for example, keeps trying to find different ways to move the project forward but only by pretending she didn’t cause any problems in the first place. But everywhere she goes, I have her blocked – with truth, integrity and knowledge.
For example, yesterday I was discussing her dismissal letter to Steve [she’d forgotten that he’s still our technical adviser and for reasons as usual undisclosed decided she’d better formally let him go] with my union guy, Carl. He stopped me at one point and said, “Hold on – she’s dismissed him? That should be in your case.”
And he was right. I’d missed it because I’ve almost grown used to their casual, but essentially lying, way of dealing with stakeholders, including those who’ve contributed enormously to the public good and for no reward, financially or otherwise.
What had happened was this . . . a couple of weeks ago, David King [at the time heading Flexible Foam Research, a two-man operation acting as a front group for the British Plastics Federation, big advocates of flame-retarded foam] sent John a ‘technical paper’. It purported to prove how the new match test isn’t going to work – but most of it the same old opinion-expressed-as-fact crap; and he ended it somewhat arrogantly/aggressively by listing ‘acknowledgements’ in the form of FIRA, FRETWORK, the Fire Protection Association, etc – the usual snouts in the FR trough suspects. Anyway, John and Barbara didn’t of course understand it and passed it to me, without actually admitting so of course. I told them to ignore him – let FW/6 deal with it [FW/6 was the British Standards Institute’s working group on furniture flammability – an upcoming meeting was scheduled very soon to discuss the progress, as such, of the new test] – that it’s just a shot across the bows. The only thing of significance is that he twice mentions ‘extra work/research’ that’s needed for the new test. He, along with the likes of Dave Sibert, Paul Fuller, Jon O’Neill, have been saying this for months, of course, but without ever saying what it entails. Sorry – they have actually told us: it’s to commission British Standards to come up with a test foam formula even though we’ve already had one for the past 30 years.
Barbara, however, insisted on doing an analysis. Which she did. Then told me to look at it. Which I did. It was, as usual, almost entirely wrong about everything. I went round to her desk and said that his arguments are blown out by BS7176. Her face was a picture: a carefully arranged frown that mightbe saying, “Of course,” or more likely, “HELP! What the fuck do you mean?” She should know of course, since she heard Steve give the argument at the FPA meeting in the House of Commons meeting room some months back. But there you go: she’s forgotten and so just wasted time writing an ‘analysis’ that misses the major point. [At that meeting, King was banging on about how we must get the test foam formula right, or face thousands of fires, court cases, etc. Steve pointed out that a) the formula we’d proposed for the new test has been used for loose covers for 30 years without any problems, and b) where testing for BS7176 – for non-domestic furniture – is concerned, flame-resistant foam fillings are required but all test houses just use any old bits of foam they have lying around, again with no problems.]
So Barbara, frown deepening in what I think was meant to indicate intellectual foreknowledge, said, “Yes, of course,” then went on about how “We’ll pin them down at FW/6, and answer all their arguments.” [Anyone following this story will probably be able to guess that when FW/6 met, Barbara and John were nowhere to be seen, and Chris who was supposed to support me in the likely battering to come from the Skipton Mafia and their mates managed to turn up right at the end, well after the storm had subsided.]
Then Chris tried to prove to me that we don’t need a technical adviser but the best she could offer as to a reason why is because, “It’s all like Game of Thrones.” So I emailed Barbara just before she was going to send the dismissal letter to Steve, copying in everyone, including Samantha, to say:
The timing is wrong and so are your reasons. One of which is that now Steve has been elected Chair of FW/6 there is a potential conflict of interest (the irony of which would be enough to scorch the FR-treated pants of Burson Marsteller) but the independence of the FW/6 Chair is not an issue; no one, not even the FR guys are questioning Steve’s independence. And most crucially, who are you going to replace him with? As soon as it’s known we don’t have a TA we’ll get loads more reports from the likes of David King, written in technobabble which will just cause more delays (as intended). Ditching our TA will also be seen as us losing faith in the new match test. Finally, you know there is no one else with Steve’s brilliance and integrity.
Barbara emails back to say she’s glad these issues have been raised before she sends out the email to Steve, along with a dig at me for not raising them earlier – yes, B, but it actually takes me some time to work through all your machinations. She goes on to say she’s discussed this further with Samantha who has some ideas about how we can achieve our objectives. Whatfecking objectives? The only one that matters is to stop putting the public at risk. But here’s the thing: some time back, when all these problems began, I said to Samantha: I know these proposals are a bit complicated; why don’t I ask Steve to come in for a couple of hours and we can explain it all to you. She looked me in the eye and said, “No.” [Which I now believe is a clear indication that she’d been got at.] Oh, and Samantha also said we need to make sure we aren’t rude to Steve. Which, really does show their utter lack of understanding of anyone outside their nicely-mannered circle of pension-preserving collusion, because I’ve never seen Steve be offended by anything other than people lying to him and thinking he’s too stupid to see it.
And with that, Barbara walked right into my rat trap. I emailed back to say that finding other experts could be a problem since over the past several months BIS does not have a very good reputation. For example, we’d invited a group of test experts to a meeting at one-day’s notice last December then totally ignored their advice when it didn’t suit our agenda (I don’t of course mean ‘we’ here; I mean ‘Barbara’); that we are currently vacillating on more work/no work with British Standards who are looking on bemused; that the furniture/testing industry is a small world (roughly Skipton-sized as it happens).
Barbara then went quiet, and no one else replied to my points. Which is odd at one level, given that I had in effect just accused her and John of giving the department a bad reputation amongst our stakeholders.
Back to my meeting with Carl . . . we decided that the best move for now is that I write to the big BIS chief, Martin Donnelly, and tell him that the department is in danger of being highly embarrassed when it transpires it’s keeping the entire British public at risk via fence-sitting civil servants. We’ll see if he has any more of a conscience than his senior managers.
Finally and perhaps the most revealing thing that happened this week: I’d deliberately left Richard Black [not his real name: the CEO of a very large chemical treatment company, one that Trading Standards had often found guilty of undertreating furniture fabrics] off the guest list for our upcoming stakeholder meetings. This is because a Trading Standards colleague tipped me off that they’re about to bust his company once again. But he found out about the meeting and demanded to be invited. So I wrote to our lawyer for a legal view and she replied that we probably shouldn’t invite him, given that he may be on the way to another prosecution. But John emailed in with a spurious (and suspicious) comparison about how the government is still talking to supermarkets even when they’re in breach of various regulations, and that we should invite Black on the same basis.
This chilled me. Because Black is in thick with the FR producers, and with Andrew Stephenson MP, and is part of the Skipton Mafia. When I told Carl about John's actions later he suggested that it would probably work like this: the big 3 FR producers and/or Burson Marsteller and/or a big treatment company offer our man a well-paid job somewhere down the line. It’s not even illegal, as such, and can easily be covered by holding an ‘open’ interview for the post. Which makes sense, although I wouldn’t rule out hard cash. After all, the FR industry gave that US burns doctor a straight $250,000 to lie in court and big-up flame retardants. Given that our new match test could cost them around £50m a year, I’m sure they would gladly stump up at least a quarter mill to stop it going through.