One of the questions I always hate when it comes to filling in job applications or going to interviews is the one about why you want to leave your current job.
I’m guessing that I’m no different than most people in that I invariable put something about looking to advance my career and chasing new challenges - all the usual anodyne bullshit you put, whether its true or not, so as not to look like you’re some sort of troublemaker to your prospective employer.
I can’t recall exactly what I put when applying for my current job or even whether that question was asked but if it was, then I’m pretty sure that’s more or less what I put.
The truth, as with most things in life, is rather more complicated than that. I actually left my last job because, being totally honest, I could no longer stomach working there. Because of quite a few things that were going on and which I know are still happening and which, even for a paycheck, I found increasingly impossible to tolerate.
Now I know you’re probably thinking already:
“Why not just leave it alone? After all you’ve move on. You’ve got another and you’re out of there? Get on with your life, you’ll feel better for it”
Well, you see, its not quite that simple.
My previous employer is a registered charity. One that receives, in local terms, a hell of a lot of public money each year - just over £1.2 million pounds during 2003/4 according to records lodged with the Charity Commission.
It exists, supposedly, to support other local charities, voluntary organisations and community groups and serves the area where I actually live, even though these days that’s not the area I work in. And, to be truthful, that’s more or less why I can to be working there in the first place. the thing that attracted me to the job I did more than anything else was the chance to work in my local area and with local people, helping them to help themselves. Sure, the paycheck mattered but the real motivation was to be in a position where every now and then I could do something which made a difference to the lives of local people.
Does that sound corny? I don’t know. Let’s just say that one of things which, deep down, drives me as an individual is a genuine belief in social justice - always has and almost certainly always will. I started out getting involved in local communities, community issues and, indeed, community politics as an activist, as someone who took on causes because I believed them to be the right thing to do and twenty years on, although I now work with communities as a professional that activist frame of mind remains as strong as ever.
That’s not to say I haven’t changed in twenty years, of course I have. I’m certainly not the idealistic ‘headbanger’ I once was - time and experience have taught me that ideals are all very well but out here in the real world they don;t count for much unless you put them into practical actions and that means that sometimes you have to take a more pragmatic view of the world, make compromises and push the intellectual purity of those ideals to one side in favour of solutions which may not be perfect but which offer the greatest achievable good. It’s not so much that the end justifies the means more a recognition that you have to have an end in the first place, that all the high ideals and intellectual ferocity you can muster amount to nothing is all you ever do is talk about something without ever doing anything about it.
But enough personal philosophy for the moment. Why am I talking about this at all.
Well without going into reams of detailed history, today I found out that a good friend and former colleague - the last of group of us who all worked at the same place - has been suspended… again.
This makes it, what, either the third or fourth attempt at finding a way to sack him. Why the uncertainty? Well, it depends very much on how you look at it.
You see, in roughly the last 18 months or so, Stuart - that being his name - has:
- been suspended for five months on ‘charges’ of gross misconduct brought by the organisation’s Chief Executive which, in the end, amounted to a couple of minor discrepancies on his time sheets for which he still got a written warning. After all it would have been highly embarrasing for the CEO to have suspended him for so long and come out of it with nothing.
- returned to work after that suspension only for a new employee who’d come into post while he off to start more or less trying to goad him in an altercation in order to get him fired. Whether you count that one as an attempt by the organization to get shot of him depends on whether your believe this other guy, who ended up getting fired himself in the end, pulled this stunt off his own back or was put up to it by the same CEO who tried, and failed, to sack Stu the first time around.
- staved off another attempt to hit him with as disciplinary after a newly employed manager secretly wrote a ‘report’ about him - at the behest of the CEO (I know, repetitive isn’t it) - which basically slated him left right and centre. That one ended up going nowhere because he found a copy of the report and an accompanying e-mail which more or less said - paraphrasing heavily - ‘Hi, here’s the report you asked for… Oh, and don’t forget to put forward my request for pay rise’. Oh, and I mustn’t forget that because he works on a project which has its own steering group - for want of better word - they also tried to enlist that group in shafting him by holding a meeting with one of them and showing them this cooked up report… without success fortunately.
And, of course, he’s now suspended for the second time while an ‘investigation’ is carried out into an allegation of ‘bullying’ against him - which is an interesting turn of events in itself in so far as both times that Stu made formal complaints of being bullied himself, once following his first suspension and the second time when he found out about the manager’s report, on neither of those occasions was the alleged perpetrator suspended while an investigation was conducted.
And all this going on in a voluntary organisation which, supposedly, should be providing leadership by example to the rest of the local voluntary sector and actively promoting ‘good practice’.
Now getting back to a bit more personal philosophy for a moment, there are few things in life I loathe with a greater degree of passion than bullies - and Stu, for all that he can be pretty forthright in his opinions is no bully. The CEO of this place… well, you make you own mind up, although I guess you know what I think. The one thing to note however is while I’ve never been one to pick a fight on my own account, I’ve also never been one to walk away from a fight when someone starts picking on a friend.
Revenge? As should be obvious there’s quite a lot about this organisation and the ways its been operating that I don’t like and some of that dislike is obviously personal - but no there is a more important point to all this and one of particular relevance to a political blog.
You see, for some time the government has been looking at where voluntary organisations might step in to take over some of the delivery of public services.
Now there are a number of ways you can look at that. You can accentuate the positives - some voluntary organisations can tend to be a little closer to the user groups than their public sector counterparts and they can also, in some cases, get into work that the public sector can’t due to people’s mistrust of anything that smacks of ‘government’ even on a local basis.
You could also take the far more cynical view that this all just a search for a more socially and especially politically acceptable form of privatisation than simple turning the delivery of public services over to the private sector.
Either way, the one thing you need to be sure of is that if and when services go over to being delivered by voluntary organisations, those services are going to run properly and remain accountable to the public. It all, as with so many other things, comes down to a question of trust.
And that’s the political point to be made here.
In talking openly about some of the things I’ve seen and experienced, first hand, over the last 2-3 years - and actually very little of it is going to be about employment or on the ‘workers v bosses’ level and much more about how public money is being used, or in some cases not used, by this particular organisation - where I hope to get to is not just to illustrate some of things that can and do go seriously wrong in the Voluntary Sector but also, when push comes to shove, how little real accountability there can sometimes be within some charities.
Just to give you a snippet or two of where I’m going, some of things I will be covering include the question of this organisation having directly received more than £500,000 in public funding over the last three years for a project which has delivered nothing of consequence - other than substantial sums of money into its own coffers - and also how, on gaining control of the full local budget for this same project, which ran to getting on for £600,000 in the last year alone, the first thing this organisation did was cut back the part of programme which actually gave grants to other local groups by £200,000.
You see, this really isn’t just about a friend getting a hard time with his employer - oh, and just for the record, he’s certainly not aware of this post and has not asked me to intervene in his current situation, just so there’s no doubt on that score. That’s just the final straw, the one that’s brought me to the point where I can no longer ignore what been going on and let others sort out the mess. The one led me to think:
Fuck it. It’s time to blow all this out into the open, tell the truth and let people reach their own conclusions.
Oh, almost forgot. The name of this organisation?
Sandwell Council of Voluntary Organisations - I’d point you to their website if I could, but they even managed to fuck that up after I left.
Oh, and in case anyone from there should pop by and see this - trust me, I’m not going to be saying anything that I can’t prove to be true, so don’t you get thinking you can make any noises about libel, y’hear.