When I started in local government there were still town clerks about.
Their picture in the paper invariably had them in gowns and wigs presiding over a council meeting. They had status and gravitas – what they said was true, even if it wasn’t.
I don’t want a return to those days. That culture was part of the Rotherham problem where the views of a few top people outweighed the evidence of many harmed young women.
But please let’s try not to go the other way. I spoke at a voluntary sector festival this weekend and was heckled badly by one section of the crowd. I spoke to some of them later. They were dismissive not because of what I was saying, but because I was the “establishment”.
I suppose it depends where you sit in the pecking order. I don’t feel like the establishment – that’s them in Westminster and Whitehall. I am dismissive of some of the stuff out of London, but I do try to base it on what they say and do, rather than who they are.
The establishment does the same, dissing organisations that disagree with them. I do not see it as a coincidence that when public sector trade unions have agreed to co-ordinate industrial action over pay, the TaxPayers’ Alliance weighs in saying taxpayers are subsidising trade unions to the tune of £108m a year with at least 2,841 full-time equivalent public service staff paid to do trade union duties.
Besides the fact this is following industrial relations law, it is good value for money. Trade union representatives 99.9% of the time solve workplace problems and save the taxpayer more money than they cost. In 2013 there were 5.7 million public service employees. On average this means a trade union representative looks after 2,000 staff. They work hard.
Conflict is a fact of life – our job is largely finding solutions to conflict. When both sides fight dirty it only gets worse. Does it always take a tragedy like Rotherham to make people wake up to the power of honest and open dialogue?
The one thing he won’t comment on is his identity…