The only sound excuse that anyone can offer for ruling is that by doing so he avoids being ruled by people inferior in talents to himself – Plato.
Quoting others is often pompous, and definitely pathetic. The primarily intention is to imply, unequivocally, that you’re well read, and this is intended to make you look impressive, but it also conveys that you lacked the ingenuity to come up with something better yourself.
So yeah, I’ve read something that includes that Plato quote, and no, I couldn’t think of something better. Well, other than – fuck off you shower of pious, humourless, empty suited cunts. Anyway, we’ll get to the context of my wee invective in a minute, and perhaps it will be done with more eloquence and will contain less hostile rhetoric, though I highly doubt it.
Until very recently, the end of February 2016 to be exact, I worked for Disclosure Scotland. If you’ve applied for a job, particularly through a recruitment agency, or for a position where you’re responsible for helping or caring for children or vulnerable adults, you’ll have a rough idea what their service is supposed to validate.
Basically (forgive the pun), a Basic Disclosure certificate tells an employer whether a person has unspent convictions or not. Standard and Enhanced applications tell you if someone has a criminal past, while Scheme Memberships, which cost £59, disclose all past convictions, spent or otherwise, police intelligence and are subject to Ongoing Monitoring. What is Ongoing Monitoring? Well, if an active Scheme Member commits a crime while employed at a position that required they become one, that employer will find out about it.
Where Disclosure Scotland makes money – over and above the absurdly extortionate cost of the certificates – is that they don’t necessarily have to disclose to the employer what a Scheme Member was arrested for, only that they were. If the employer wants to find out the specifics, they have to pay Disclosure Scotland for that information. Now, remember, this is a government run department. I have to say, as a business model, it’s terrific, very lucrative, and the Tax Payer certainly isn’t losing out. You’ll be happy about all of this if you’re a fucking soulless twat.
But for the rest of us, especially those of us who’ve worked there (and in my case having worked there for eighteen months), when you conflate this brazen extortion that’s been concocted, fuelled solely by a drive for profits, with baring witness to the grim realities of the internal PVG system’s rules and procedures as dictated by law, it becomes difficult to reconcile this with the wholesome motivation offered for the initiative’s creation (to prevent the likes of Ian Huntley from working in or around a school, say). In fact, it comes across as completely insincere and hollow, and the ‘product’ is often a pointless one.
Here’s the truth – merely preventing someone like Ian Huntley from working as a school caretaker may not have stopped him from committing the murders of those two girls. Today he would’ve been required to submit a higher level disclosure, which would’ve revealed his past arrest for burglary, and any aliases he could be known by would’ve been vetted against the police database. But there’s every chance he would’ve still been cleared to work as a school caretaker as he wasn’t convicted of a crime. I saw multiple instances of folks with past convictions (though none were of a sexual nature, just like Huntley) who were cleared to work with children and vulnerable adults. The person who hired Huntley said he wouldn’t have hired him had he known of his arrest, but, given what happened, he would say that, wouldn’t he? With the media in total hysteria the blame game started, so an enquiry was launched because something ‘had to be done’. It’s always an easier path for the government to relent and politicise a tragedy in an attempt to elide blame. They had to be seen to be doing something, even if it was only implementing laws for slightly more stringent vetting procedures, and, if you’re going to all that trouble, why not make some money out of it? No doubt, in the aftermath of an appalling crime, creating more business assuaged the momentary guilt and concern in a pampered NuLabour Whitehall office at the thought of being pilloried for doing nothing. Forcing employers to vet job applicants, giving them more information to potentially turn them down, passes on the responsibility to employers in future. If another Huntley incident occurs, it’ll be their fault. Bottom line, that this vetting initiative may make it more difficult for latent predators like Huntley to gain access to jobs that makes it easier for them to commit these crimes strikes me as just, just, doing enough.
That really should be the motto of Disclosure Scotland’s business model – ‘we do just enough’, ‘the bare minimum’, that and ‘we do all we can to make damn sure we don’t get sued’. Okay, that’s three mottos, but whatever. Basic applications, which make up roughly ninety percent of all applications, aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. I can’t tell you the number of times I set possible records, records that contained alias names and dates of birth, therefore couldn’t conclusively be proven to belong to that applicant, that contained spent sexual convictions, or for being caught with huge stashes of child pornography (pseudo-photographs in a lot of cases, just to give you all the vulgar detail), to ‘no match’.
Fair enough, I suppose. These applications tend to be for folk who are seeking work as a mechanic, or office admin jobs that don’t require a police background check, and have nothing to do with caring for children or the elderly. But I wonder, what about the other employees at these places who are only required by law to submit Basic Disclosures for their vacancies? How would you feel about potentially working alongside someone who ran someone over whilst pissed seven years ago, got caught digging kiddy porn nine years ago, or even worse creates/edits it in Photoshop? Or working for a company that isn’t arsed about thoroughly vetting its potential employees, regardless of whether they’re required to by law? What about the law as it is? Is it stringent enough? Why even have Basic Disclosures at all? Or are the Basics simply the bountiful harvest of a cynical government scheme that’s exhausted all the possible ways in which it can make more money, and this is excused as it’s been cleverly incorporated under the kind of window dressing initiative that tends to alleviate societal hand-wringing?
For example, someone like me, who vetted these cases, and was responsible for matching records to applicants, and who was viewed as reliable at doing so, could’ve very easily set these records with unspent convictions, on Basic Disclosures, to no match on purpose. Because most Basics aren’t vetted twice, all higher applications are, it would be printed as so. During peak periods Disclosure Scotland was printing forty-thousand certificates a month, and so it makes you wonder how many possible records were missed every month.
Aside from the repetitive nature of the job, the fact that the PVG system we used was exasperatingly clunky, often crashed, was poorly designed, and cost a staggering £55m (it was outsourced to an Indian company), Disclosure Scotland wasn’t an unpleasant place to work, thanks largely to the A and B band staff.
But morale among the A band staff was often utterly shite, largely thanks to the bureaucratic ‘decisions’ of the senior management team. Many of which either contradicted earlier decisions they’d made, or due to miscommunications, placed the ops managers or the line managers in difficult positions, often taking flack for unpopular decisions and fuck-ups made by senior management or other departments.
Internal coms were astonishingly, laughably shite. As Malcolm Tucker would say they were ‘a fucking waste of skin’. There were many emails sent out which caused confusion, harmed productivity and quality of work. In the main this was because they were poorly worded, and needlessly used oblique, superfluous, convoluted language to detail simple changes to PVG procedure. However the finest of these fuck-ups had nothing to do with PVG procedures. Eighteen permanent positions within Disclosure Scotland were advertised in January of this year. An internal email was sent out to all employees, that was the first mistake. In said email it failed to implicitly or explicitly state that these positons could only be filled by the fixed term members of staff. Due to Scottish Government rules, any internal vacancies first had to be offered to civil servants, regardless of whether they worked at Disclosure Scotland or not, before, and only provided these positions weren’t able to be filled, they could be advertised externally to agency workers employed at Disclosure Scotland. The nightshift ops manager sheepishly had to carry the can, apologising for the confusion, even though it wasn’t his fault, and clear up what the email failed to explain. Either the person writing it foolishly assumed that the employees knew about the civil service rules regarding advertising internal vacancies, or the person writing it didn’t know the rules themselves. Of course, these mistakes happen, but they seemed to be perpetual at Disclosure, and that one in particular was a belter.
However, morale was in the toilet largely thanks to the contemptuous manner in which the band A staff were dictated to by senior management, who, in absolute cowardice, would use the line managers and ops managers as conduits to deliver unpopular news. In most cases it was insisting on a hard line for innocuous things that riled up us plebs. The insistence that all nightshift staff members take their breaks at certain set times to mirror the break structure for dayshift workers was especially pointless, when nightshift hours were different and nightshift workers had previously been able to take their lunch break whenever they wanted. This was applied to all A band staff and policed without equivocation, but the line managers and ops managers still took breaks when it suited them.
Annually the senior management team sent pleading emails asking for feedback in a staff survey (quick tangent, amusingly and shamelessly this survey asked if you felt anxious or depressed at work), and then neither implementing nor changing anything based on the overwhelmingly negative feedback they received. No doubt this ticked a diligent management box showing awareness of staff concerns and considering them, plus I bet it looked quite nice in their Powerpoint presentation in Edinburgh. It was intimated several times that the senior management team were intending to come on the nightshift to answer staff concerns face to face, but they never did so. See what I mean about being cowardly? Despite having worked there for eighteen months I couldn’t pick any of them out of a police line-up, which, when it came to terminating my assignment, a euphemism for sacking me, and, as it turned out, for gross misconduct, according to them, that distance came in quite handy.
Believe me, I don’t like being so bitter about this. It’s so pitifully weak and self-serving, and I now have another job, but I do feel a sense of injustice that I can’t shake. It struck me as senseless, heavy-handed and counter-productive on their part, as they certainly had their money’s worth out of me. I processed between fourteen to fifteen cases an hour (the average was twelve), my QA was excellent and my attendance and timekeeping were exemplary. But none of this seemed to matter when an audit discovered that I consistently used my spreadsheet to keep notes, sorry, that’s a ‘misuse of government systems’ to you and me. Never mind that the spreadsheet had a comments box, for, er, comments? Originally I used the comments box for what I assumed was its self-stated purpose. When I first started working there I was making errors, so I took a note of the how and why, for learning purposes. Ultimately, due to boredom, these notes incorporated esoteric cultural reference jokes only I was likely to get, some comments were sarcastic (perhaps I was sacked for crimes against sarcasm?), many of them self-depreciating, and perhaps the intended victim of these comments, me, was unclear when written down. Other than that dross I recited John Cooper Clarke’s ‘Evidently Chickentown’, lyrics by Bob Dylan, Scott Walker, Leonard Cohen and Gil Scott-Heron, because, well, why not? I did this for the entire time I was at Disclosure. That’s eighteen months of abusing a government system, apparently. Shouldn’t that be shame on them for allowing me to run amok for all that time?
No, I don’t think I was sacked for just that. I think it’s far more likely I was sacked for making a sarcastic remark belittling an applicant who, born in Croydon, and having lived there their whole life, or so they claimed, spelled Croydon as ‘Croyden’ multiple times on their application. I probably made similar comments on other occasions too. Clearly I wasn’t cognisant that this person or others may have learning difficulties of some sort that prevented them from spelling their place of birth correctly multiple times, or that I wasn’t forgiving or tolerant enough – because everyone makes mistakes, even me.
Lesson learned. In retrospect I should’ve been more self-aware in recognising the inherent distrust that perpetually exists between employer and employee in the civil service when compared with the jovial less constrained private sector work environments I’ve experienced. However, at no point was I told not to misuse the system this way. If I’d known this would lead to my sacking I wouldn’t have done it, and did they need to sack me at all? How about taking me aside and telling me to stop it? Again, I would’ve done so.
But seeing as they’re in no mood to be forgiving, neither shall I. Normally I would’ve let this lie and just moved on (and nobody reads this blog anyway), but there was a sting in the tail, a real twist of the knife. Sacking me wasn’t enough; they had to take the fucking piss out of me by having a wee dig too. During the conversation where my agency told me not to go into work anymore (imagine having to give that phone call to somebody?) it was suggested that part of the reason I was sacked for this note taking was they believed that it ‘harmed my productivity’. In this instance that’s a euphemism for ‘you were wasting our time’. There was no problem with my productivity by their standards. But remember, Disclosure Scotland is a business first. Why accept a temporary staff member only giving you fourteen to fifteen cases an hour, when you can conjure reasons to sack them for not giving you sixteen or seventeen per hour?
So I’ve come to recognise that, in this case, the opposite of the Plato quote is true. The only excuse the management at Disclosure Scotland had for sacking me is that I didn’t fully acquiesce to their standards and rules, and that by speaking my mind I jeopardised the atmosphere they’d deliberately worked hard to cultivate, where fairness and equality were encouraged by encouraging people to shut up and do as their told, or else. I strongly suspect they were threatened by any deviation from that (even if no other staff members were aware of my ‘gross misconduct’ happening, after all, they weren’t for eighteen months), and given I was only a temporary staff member, they didn’t need to be lenient. I reckon there was an element of embarrassment that I’d been doing it for so long undetected. That had the scope to make them look bad to their superiors, as though they weren’t in complete control of the plebs. Had I been a permanent member of staff and a Union member, I suspect they wouldn’t have dared sack me, or even tried to.
There’s only one thing I regret, despite being told not to go into Disclosure again, I did exactly the opposite. The explanation I received from the agency was vague (understandably), and given my performance, attendance and conduct (at least in person, openly) were excellent, the news was absolutely staggering to me. So I wanted a better, more detailed explanation. Despite them revoking the functionality of my pass instantly (though it took them weeks to get round to giving me one), and it was indicative of, and completely unnerving, how quickly I was wiped away, treated like some kind of contaminant, without any kind of thanks for my service whatsoever, I was able to blag my way into the building. This was thanks to the commissionaire being one of the soundest blokes going and remembering everyone’s face and name who worked there. That’s a security breach, innit? The building’s threat level was perpetually, laughably, set to high. So this made him look bad, but then surprise, surprise, nobody told him I had been sacked, and henceforth I should’ve been viewed as a terror threat. Even so it was fucking bollocks behaviour on my part. I apologised to him for it, but still, it was poor.
Also poor was putting my line manager in a difficult spot. The look on his face when he saw me was priceless, ‘oh for fuck’s sake’ pretty much sums it up. So my apologies go to him for this. He didn’t need that, but unsurprisingly to me he handled the situation like a total professional, even talking to me in private where he gave me as much detail as he could. Suitably it was very little, and the impression I got was he couldn’t believe I had been sacked for so little either. The nightshift ops manager was informed and he informed my line manager that I was sacked for gross misconduct for mis-use of government systems. A call was placed to the agency informing them my assignment was to be terminated, and they in turn informed me. I’d have far more respect for the person or persons at Disclosure Scotland who made that decision if they’d told me, face to face, to fuck off.
At the end of the year the Basic Disclosure work will head down to another government site in England. This seems like justice to me, until I realise that this doesn’t change how utterly pointless the Basics are, and that the only folks who’ll lose their jobs at Disclosure Scotland will be some fixed term and all temporary A band staff. Sadly, the senior management team of Disclosure Scotland will remain in situ, wasting money, demoralising the remaining staff and overseeing a crappy system (that they stupidly outsourced) which provides a largely pointless service. Inferiority, in other words, rules.