Sticking a Cork in it
Well here I am nearly two weeks late with the blog – but in my defence I started it almost immediately, decided I should do something else first and didn’t pick it up again sorry! I’m posting this myself so no pictures because I don’t know how to get them over onto the site from an email [fixed now – webmaster]!
I was up in Manchester again on Monday 26 February for some more training in my new role. We were to do Strength Deployment Inventory facilitation – the idea being we can now roll this out in our region if we need to. I’m not sure I will need to do that but it is useful to know what strengths I have and whether I am people, process or the other one in the green area. I also found out where I go to when I’m in conflict – the answer is it depends on the conflict and it cannot be predicted. Which makes life really quite interesting!
Before the training started I had a telephone call with Simon York on who would be our new RIL in West Midlands – Ann Roberts if you’re interested and then a meeting with Jan Beasley who is the casework lead for HMRC.
I was expressing quite a lot of concern about the department’s use of suspension and a seemingly new process brought in to handle complaints following Esther’s statement on harassment. This is such a difficult topic because we don’t condone harassment of any sort but any one accused is entitled to have the process applied fairly and we are clear on Committee that this is not currently happening. I find the conversations with the department very difficult and I sometimes feel quite ill when they are over but it’s so important to hold them to account if process is not followed otherwise it would be a free for all and we would be in chaos (oh, hang on…)
The two days training was good but I think it fair to say I did not anticipate acquiring another bag to bring home with two ring binders and a large book to refer to, currently gathering dust in the hall. Part of the second afternoon involved one to one conversations and mine was with Liz Robertson from Liverpool – we did try and talk work but slipped occasionally and managed to solve one or two other issues while we were there!
Then on 28 February I was supposed to be going to Warwick to run an assessment centre for our TSP recruitment programme but I had to ask to step back to take RTI for a medical appointment on 1 March so David Cooper from Committee very kindly stepped in for me. This gave me three days to catch up on loads of things and dial into a meeting I would have struggled with if I had been running an assessment centre. I missed running the centres though! I was also able to accommodate various dial ins on issues that popped up last minute, including one on the Equal Pay Claim which we were devastated to have lost that week. To be fair to Ingrid Simmler though she at least turned the judgement round quickly.
On Monday 5 March I travelled back down to London and caught up with Zohra who is shortly stepping out of being our National Officer to be replaced by Jawad Raza. We have various cases going to Tribunal and needed to make sure we had all our ducks in a row. We also had a brief discussion about what should go on the Committee agenda for next week. Loz was preparing the agenda for the first time because Paula and I were both going to the AHCPS conference in Cork. The sting in the tail for me was I was speaking!
Wednesday was another day in the office and then home to Solihull where RTI co-ordinated collecting me with going to a bridge match so all normal there then.
Thursday we were up and away early to the airport to fly to Cork. So easy and all running to time. As ever I was conscious of the cost (RTI pays for himself) so we took a bus from the airport to Cork Centre then I used my phone to find the hotel. We decided that as it was only a twenty minute walk we would do just that – except that got us half way. I have no idea why, but as we were half way there we had to carry on. Now RTI has an arthritic knee so he was in a bit of pain when we got there, but a pint of Guinness soon put him right!! We went back into Cork (by taxi) for a wonder round, it was fascinating, lots of old signage left (Tony Hayward would love it) and one building had a most unusual pattern over it. It was a Singer Sewing Machine repair shop and I was most impressed when RTI recognised the pattern as the same as in the old fashioned Singer machines. I had to google it to check!
There was a very pleasant meal in the evening and then Friday morning was their Conference. They had asked me to speak about Brexit but with a free rein – so I spoke about what we are going through in terms of transformation and then layered Brexit over the top. I was pleased with the reaction I got to what I said, with plenty of people telling me they thought I spoke well and they were intrigued by just how much we were having to cope with. I will be publishing what I said shortly on our website but as some of it was handwritten (well the ending was) I need to tweak it before I do. They presented me with a bottle of Hendricks Gin to thank me which was gratefully received and even having to pay to check a bag into the hold was cheaper than the bottle itself so all good there! We stayed for the rest of the conference – we didn’t have to but I wanted to hear what their issues were and to be honest it was no different to our own AGM where pay, performance, succession planning, recording systems and other issues are debated – the accents were different and the acronyms odd but you could follow it. There were, as you would expect quite a few jokes made which kept the pace moving and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Then a quick drink before preparations for the dinner began.
There was, of course, a free bar and the dinner was held back over at the conference venue which was behind the hotel – the picture shows the view across from the first floor of the conference centre. We were sat on Table 2, David and Helen Stewart had been promoted to Table 1 so I asked the chap next to me what his role was – he replied he was one of the Commissioners, so I responded that maybe I ought to have known that but he was very nice about it and said there was no reason why. But I did feel a little silly. I had a fantastic conversation with him, he reminded me a little of Jon Thompson, without the weight of the whole of HMRC on his shoulders. He told a great story about going out visiting offices and hearing that at one office the questions had been requested in advance and screened, so when they got there they said they weren’t taking the advance questions and asked for a show of hands from the audience, then watched the faces of the managers. I don’t think those managers will try screening questions again, I’m told they got to the bottom of the issues some of which were unintended consequences of actions taken centrally, and although the session was uncomfortable it worked. I was really impressed with this, I’m thinking of suggesting it to ExCom next time they visit somewhere!
We arrived home on Saturday and our home was still standing. Tinks had not had a party this year so all was well. RTI enjoyed it and it was good to see him getting back to normal.