For the first time, I find myself thinking that I should perhaps be careful about what I put in this journal. Essentially, I'm at the centre of a massive national scandal which, if it ever becomes public, will expose corruption and incompetence on a huge scale.
Today, the Minister's office hit with me even more questions she has before the round table meeting she's holding next month with stakeholders - while I was still answering her previous bunch. The fact that she has already had answers to most of them is not something that appears to be relevant. She's also not too keen on our (my) idea of announcing that we'll do all the amendments to the regs, including the new match test. She isn't saying why, of course, just that she still wants to get people to talk at the round table, to find out why some are objecting to the new match test, so that she can make up her mind about it. This despite the fact she has had all the reasons - or rather the lack of them - put to her several times.
As usual, I've run this through my government bullshit translation device which unfortunately is not perfect being that it is in effect my brain, and suggest that what she really means is:
I've had a lot of hassle over just one small change to these regulations. If I announce that the Department is going to bring in all the changes within a year or so, and if as is likely senior civil servants continue to screw things up, then it's going to look bad on me, even if I'm no longer a Minister or even an MP. On the other hand, if I can get the match test into the position where we can at least say it'll be in place in a year or so, then I'll look good if it does appear and less bad if it doesn't. On the other other hand, if all the changes go ahead on time, it's the new Minister that will get the credit, not me.
She also wants to invite lots of the 'enemy' to the round table, i.e. the Skipton Mafia and its mates. Which actually would have been a good idea since Steve (and me) would have been able to demolish their arguments in front of her. But of course Barbara has decided that we need 'protecting' and therefore have been banned from speaking. It isn't of course clear whether or not the Minister agreed to or even instigated this.
When I told Steve about all this, he said, "It's a set-up." And I think he's right:
- Swinson has not listened to the evidence-based advice she's been given, more to senior civil servants' opinions.
- If she really wants to get at the truth it makes no sense to invite so many naysayers, rogues and outright crooks and ban Steve and I from speaking. The more sensible thing would be to hold a meeting with test experts and listen to their views on the new test . . . oh, wait a minute, we already did that but Barbara decided not to tell her.
- She appears to have wilfully misread the advice I put to her last week, stating that the fire sector is negative towards the new test. I actually said it isn't, and cited the FPA telling us recently that they believe the current match test doesn't work and the new one will.
- With around 30 people and just an hour for the meeting, you're looking at less than 2 mins per person to speak. The usual suspects know the Minister is wobbling and will have just enough time to spout a negative opinion expressed as fact to keep her wobbling permanently.
- Add to this the fact that John sneaked up to the Minister's office yet again last week just after the latest submission went up, to once more suggest we should delay until things are clearer (like the exact amount of your pay-off, John?). He doesn't know about my spy up there . . .
All in all, Steve and I believe the Minister doesn't want any changes to actually go ahead on her watch. Best option for her is to set something in place that will come to fruition (or not) after she's gone, which means she can get some credit if it goes right and blame the next Minister/government if it goes wrong. As Steve said, something changed around the FPA's intervention and the Adjournment Debate, i.e. the big players got involved. Stephen McPartland MP for one (or whoever's actually pulling his strings) who of course has just been given a place on the board of Furniture Village, token input required for a far from token £40K+ per year; and Andrew Stephenson MP, he with a whole bunch of chemical treatment companies on his patch, including the biggest in the world - no guessing what he got for Christmas. And of course Sir Ken Knight who bullied Barbara and John into agreeing to a further unnecessary 12 months work on the new test through British Standards, which apart from delaying the changes, will be a nice little earner for BS; and I'm sure the fact Sir Ken is on their steering board has nothing to do with his suggestion.
In other words, there is Big Stuff (well, Big Money) behind all these shenanigans. Certainly, it's far too big for Barbara to handle. Inside that intellectually earnest permanent frown and well-enunciated vowels is a distinct lack of mental robustness. Not sure how robust my mentals are either, but unlike her I'm not hampered by an ever-present terrified need to protect my career backside no matter what it takes, e.g. destroying my reputation.
On that last point, here is just one example:
Barbara took Nicola to one side to say she needed to have a conversation with her about my behaviour (Barbara, like many senior civil servants has no real working relationships so is prone to making the big mistake of assuming the same is also true for lesser ranks, i.e. she would believe I'd never find out about this). Did Nicole remember, says Babs, the time when Terry threw a pen at her (Babs, that is)?
I was flummoxed about this piece of nonsense at first, then Nicole remembered when the three of us were talking in a meeting room together. Barbara had taken me in there to let me know about her latest stupid advice to the Minister but rather oddly (it seemed at the time) had pulled Nicola in, too.
At one point, I'd slapped my pen on to the table in frustration. Barbara, however, wanted Nicola to say that I'd thrown it at her, hadn't I? Nicola said no, thank God. And then it became clear to both of us that Barbara had gambled. She'd taken Nicola into our meeting, knowing that what she was going say would frustrate me, and hoped I'd do something that she could then blow up, get witnessed and have me disciplined for accordingly, probably even taken off the job. Unfortunately for Babs, she's a bad reader of character otherwise she'd have known Nicola is not the type to tell lies about a colleague.
[Update: Barbara, incredibly, first wrote up this meeting for my annual report, still claiming that Nicola agreed I'd thrown the pen. However, Nicola protested again, so Barbara changed the text to read that she felt as if I'd thrown the pen at her. Later still, when giving a statement in my Civil Service Code case, presumably realising that this was too lame to put into an official statement, then claimed that in fact I'd slapped the pen on to the table where it had bounced towards her! It unfortunately goes without saying that when I complained about these contradictory and untrue statements, nothing at all was done about it.]
Steve and I know that my position is extremely tenuous. They'd love to get rid of me but are hampered by the fact that I have far greater knowledge of the Regulations than they do. Also, ironically, I have much better relationships with our stakeholders. Hence, if they get rid of me they will be forced to deal directly with people who on the whole are far more savvy than they are. That, and no one to blame when it all goes horribly wrong as their deepest, darkest, most scary instincts know is inevitable.