[Note: in December 2014, Jo Swinson decided, in a meeting with Oliver Letwin, that she did not feel confident enough to go forward with the new match test to the original timetable. This left the changes somewhat in limbo, and there was the looming problem of what do we do next?]
Barbara, John and I had a meeting two days ago to talk about next steps with the match test, or in their case how to avoid taking any. Essentially, I put to them the idea of doing all the amendments to the FFRs (i.e. new match test plus all the other updates everyone's wanted for years now) by April 2016. Barbara was resistant at first which confirmed that she'd been planning to take the classic civil servant route of doing nothing - hoping the Minister would lose interest before the election in a few months' time. But I argued that doing nothing is not really an option, mainly because of the very public problems with the current match test, not least that it mostly doesn't work. She seems to have forgotten that our lawyers strongly urged us to get the new match test in by April next year or there could be law suits flying around all over the place. And her memory also appears to have blocked out the fact that Trading Standards have told us they can no longer prosecute breaches under the match test; that and the potential press scandal, etc. The mind of a senior civil servant is a wonderfully diverse organ, supporting any direction but the bleeding obvious. Finally, I reminded her that industry would have no arguments left if we announced that we're going to get everything done by April. I watched her mind checking this particular direction and concluding that it probably represented the best personal safety option.
So, late yesterday I put up a submission to the Minister. This is the second in a row Barbara's told me to put my name on. She never does anything without a self-serving reason and my theory here is that she's restoring a Terry-led chain for the project in the hope that in time it will distance her from any shit that may hit the fan. She can then point back to a small blip in the process which meant she had to step back in and take control - if it all goes wrong - or claim the credit for encouraging her staff to take responsibility - if it all goes right. The mind of a senior civil servant is wonderfully flexible, providing all the options point to covering their back.
Then John did a very weird thing. Just before the submission was to go up, he told me (with Barbara out of ear and eye shot) he was concerned that the Minister might get angry again at us for pushing her into a timetable and that perhaps we should hang on for a bit. I swear he was trying very hard to squeeze the shine of integrity into his gaze as he said this but it just looked like moral constipation to me. And this is not of course what what Barbara had said but it is him trying to delay things again. And pretty desperately this time. Then something occurred to me: the biggest losers from the new match test are going to be the big 3 flame retardant companies - Chemtura, ICL and Albemarle - yet they've been suspiciously quiet during this consultation period. When the test finally comes in, they will lose up to £50m a year, and even more shortly after when new technologies kick in. There are two windows for bringing in new regulatory changes - April and October. It's going to be tight bringing in all these changes by April next year. If we had to delay by just one window that would represent a gain of around £25m for the FR companies. Plenty of dosh, therefore, to aid them in steering the best-placed individual. And who is best-placed to cause such a delay? Well, the candidates are Barbara, myself and John. I take pride in the fact that aside from the odd meal or two, the FR industry has not tried to bribe me (or Steve for that matter). Barbara does have back-covering reasons to delay, but these appear to have been mitigated now with my idea of doing everything at once.
John, on the other hand, was the person who took a clandestine trip up to the Minister's office when the very first submission went up last year, to tell them that these changes probably weren't going to go ahead (not that Barbara has ever done anything about that - too much scandal for her to handle, no doubt, and perpetrated by one of her staff that she should have had under control in the first place). He also twice more said similar things on the quiet to private office. In other words, I have them both under suspicion, with John as the more likely outright corrupt of the two.
Either way, Barbara and John appear to be utterly without conscience. Which is perhaps strange, given that they are both active Christians (he sings in the church choir and she's a vicar's wife) but this appears only to help them justify treating any non-Christians as 'fair game'. Barbara has odd habit of staring you in the eye when she wants to appear sincere. I suspect some vicars have adopted the same tactic. But it's actually a symptom of assumed moral high-ground that is nothing more than self-justification bolstered by a belief system sponsored by the absolute authority of the entire universe. And I'm not talking about the Permanent Secretary.
Steve told me tonight that he is thoroughly sick of everyone's antics. He's working out whether or not the sabotage on the new test was deliberate or just incompetence. Neither of us trust Barbara or John one inch. Another example of Barbara's manipulative ways: the Minister wants to hold a round table meeting with stakeholders before she leaves office (probably next month). When the team discussed it a couple of days ago I mentioned that Steve would obviously need to be there [as BIS's technical advisor on the proposed changes]. But Barbara said no - because she wants to 'protect' him. The same excuse she gave for not telling me about the Judicial Review threat a couple of months ago (accompanied by 'sincere' stare into my eyes). Steve does not of course need protecting - he has after all faced hundreds of people, some quite hostile, over the course of the build-up to the consultation last August - and I don't either; well, only maybe from Barbara and John. No, the real reason she doesn't want Steve there is because he tells the truth so is likely to remind the Minister and everyone else present that people are dying as a result of further delays. That and the additional work on a new test foam proposed by the FPA (which will cause that delay) and which they will push at the Minister again is utterly pointless.
Originally, I'd thought that this next part of the process - aiming for all the amendments by April next year - should be quite straightforward. But of course it won't be. There'll be more and more shenanigans both from industry and civil servants - because while they all want the overall amendments to come in, what they don't want is the new match test to come in.
If I could I would drop Barbara and John into the shit - expose them to the press and be damned with the Data Protection Act or whatever other protections civil servants are so good at awarding themselves. It's totally what they deserve but hey, they're no doubt, looking forward to taking their place in Heaven when the time comes; that or make a packet out of flogging FRs to Hell.
One thing I resent is the incredible amount of time that Steve and I have to spend unpicking their real motives. They never declare them, of course, and disguise them behind what they know are genuine motives. So, Barbara, for example will talk about making the match test safe, but at the same time throw in a concern that we must listen to all stakeholders and try to please them. Including the FR industry who also say they're all for fire safety, but only if it's accomplished via tons of their products.
We all know money talks. But so does career-protection. Remember: thou shall not kill, John and Barbara? And thou shall not bear false witness against your staff member? But I guess these have been superseded by the modern eleventh commandment: thou shall cover one's back by any means available and in pursuit of which thou art entitled to breach any of the previous ten.