On this page, I'll analyse and copy papers which give some additional insight into the way the match test has been blocked. First:
HOW MY GRADE 5 GOT ME SACKED AND CONSIGNED PEOPLE TO DEATH PURELY IN ORDER TO COVER HER BACK
I have attached below a quite extraordinary document that was sent to me on 13 January 2016 by the Grade 5 (senior civil servant) in charge of the Furniture Regulations team, who I will call Barbara Middlemiss.
[Update: her real name is Bridget Micklem. I have come to the conclusion that she should not be afforded anonymity, in light of her leading role in ensuring that every home in the country retains the highest levels of toxic flame retardants in the world.]
They had by this stage already pushed me out of my job but for reasons the Grade 3 [real name: Susannah Simon] did not disclose she had instructed Barbara to let me see the submission they had recently put up to the Minister, Anna Soubry. This meeting was to discuss my objections to the submission.
They had met with Soubry in October 2015 to recommend to her that the new match test should go ahead in April 2016 - in the same form as it had been issued for consultation in 2014. Soubry had agreed.
I should perhaps point out here that senior civil servants rarely if ever explain their motives and Barbara was no exception. For a year, she had been doing everything possible to delay implementation of the new match test for a whole host of spurious and undeclared reasons, but mainly in my view to cover the fact that she had been instrumental in not getting it implemented originally. Then suddenly, in October, she made a dramatic entrance half way through a team meeting, interrupting John Lord [real name: Phil Earl] who had been as usual advocating delays, to announce that we were now going ahead in April 2016. John's face was a picture: his normal sociopathic calm giving way to tiny but perceptible tremors of betrayal and hurt. Clearly, Barbara had not told him of her plans, probably, I suspected, so he could be the fall guy if necessary.
However, this change left Barbara with a problem: how to explain that BIS would have in effect delayed implementation for a year for no good reason. Whatever motivation was behind her change of mind (and on balance I suspect back-covering was the main reason, i.e. she'd reasoned that the change was going to happen sooner or later and wanted to be seen to at least have kicked it off now, with John the one still advocating delay), she still needed a way out of, well, being accountable. And so, instead of following the usual course of action and the team confirming the proposal to Soubry in writing right after their verbal meeting, the weeks dragged by with Barbara in a quandary. She needed a reason for the delays so far and the only valid one was that BEIS had been working on a change to the proposal.
Eventually, realising she was not going to budge again unless she could show such a change, I came up with a desperate idea 15 mins before a team meeting. The situation was very fraught, since Barbara was long over-due in putting up a submission and the current match test proposal had elements she'd added that I objected to.
My idea was that manufacturers could be given the option to cover the entire sofa with an interliner, thereby demonstrating that the cover fabric would not form holes under a match flame. In the original proposed new test, we had provided the facility for manufacturers to test-prove that their covers did not form holes. This meant that flammable materials close to the cover were protected. But Barbara had decided to remove this facility, under her ongoing need to demonstrate that she had not been delaying for nothing. But that left manufacturers with a problem. If they couldn't measure hole formation, they couldn't prove that their covers were protective. Which meant that all their materials close to the cover - hessian, cardboard, plastic hooks, etc - would need to pass the test direct. And many such materials could not. Therefore, manufacturers would have to find non-flammable replacements. These existed but were not ideal. John Lewis, for example, had complained that they did not want to have to replace their hessian straps with fire-resistant plastic ones because these squeaked!
When I told Barbara my idea, her eyes actually filled with water and a huge emotional weight could be seen floating off her shoulders. Not that she actually thanked me, of course.
Unfortunately, about an hour after the meeting in which Barbara told us that the idea about interliners would go into the Minister's submission, I realised my idea would not in fact work. Currently, interliners are only used with cover fabrics that are 75% or more composed of cellulosic ('natural') materials, such as cotton or flax. Such materials do not need to be treated with flame retardants but the interliners do. Now, however, we were advocating that all cover materials be used with an interliner. This would obviously increase manufacturers' costs (I was told it costs around £60 to fit an interliner) and hugely increase the levels of FRs in sofas (via organo-phosphates in the interliners) - both totally negating the objectives of a new match test. [Update: I learned fairly recently that most manufacturers who could use an interliner do not choose to, simply because it's cheaper to back-coat fabrics with flame retardants than pay to have an interliner fitted.]
I told Barbara this and she wasn't happy, to put it mildly. In fact she had me removed from my job. But she kept the idea! She and John Lord put together the formal submission to Soubry (now 6 weeks late and therefore ensuring the next implementation window was missed). As said, the Grade 3 instructed them to show it to me. But John Lord was not happy and played a nice trick: he waited until 5.30pm before giving me a copy. A paper copy - dropped on my desk without a word. I took it home and started working on it but when I got into work the next morning I found out that he'd put the submission up before waiting for my comments.
But the Grade 3 was still worried - not about my welfare of course; more that I might point out that the submission was full of faults, and that might ultimately reflect badly on her. Hence, she arranged a meeting with Barbara and me. Their tactic was the usual: badger the lower grade with a lot of superior-sounding guff until he meekly agrees to toe the line.
Barbara spoke at length and every time I tried to speak, fluttered her eyelashes in mock offence, said, "Let me finish!" and carried on. It was an amazing performance, with truth the absent partner. For example, she'd come up with a new excuse for the delays. She said she had discovered that Steve Owen had never had a contract with the Department as our technical advisor. This meant his work could legitimately be criticised by other stakeholders as not valid; therefore, we needed to go out to consultation again, etc.
This time, I butted in. "Actually, Barbara, Steve did have a contract with us and I have a copy of it. Would you like me to send it to you? Your predecessor put it together, all officially cleared by him."
For once, Barbara was temporarily lost for words. I knew she'd looked for the contract since she'd ordered my line manager [Chris Knox] to dig for it. However, my line manager was avoiding me as much as possible so had failed to take the simple step of asking me. Instead, she looked through the files. But as I've noted elsewhere on this site, BIS has virtually no files covering the years up to the end of 2015. She reported to Barbara that Steve had never had a contract. Barbara was saved! Then not, again.
To cut a long story short, I eventually managed to put some views back to Barbara at the meeting. But civil service senior grades simply cannot compute a situation where the junior grade is telling them they've got something wrong. Even when the junior grade is the expert in the subject to hand. So, my points didn't register with either of them. However, they were still concerned about what I might or might not say in future.
Hence, a few days later, Barbara sent me a 12-page 'answer' to my points. I think this is the most incredible document I ever encountered during my time on the Furniture Regulations. It is almost totally and completely wrong about everything. Yet, she probably believed it was totally right.
I showed it to Steve Owen and his main observation was: "It's demented." I think that is the right word. The dictionary defines demented as: 'unable to think or act clearly because you are extremely worried, angry, or excited about something'.
I wrote a lot of comments on Barbara's paper, explaining why almost everything she'd written was wrong. Apart from anything else, I had spent years, full-time, understanding the Regulations and working with the country's most brilliant test expert to come up with a new test that would save lives. I cared about this work. I'd put in hundreds of additional unpaid hours to see it through. By contrast, Barbara had only been in the Department for a year and the Furniture Regs was just one of many responsibilities for her. And yet she was convinced she knew better.
Her only response to my comments was to say that she would no longer discuss the matter because I was no longer in the job! This, despite holding a meeting about the matter, and writing me a long paper when I was also no longer in the job. Demented, for sure.
Below is a link to the paper with my comments. I'm reproducing it partly so everyone can see just how high the level of hubris can be in some senior civil servants and also for the record to show how flimsy is the basis of BEIS's current grasp on their own Regulations. And while Barbara spends so much time and energy covering her own back, it might be prudent to remember that the faults in these Regulations, which she has been paramount in failing to put right, are causing deaths and unnecessary house fires. That is something I will never forgive her for.