27 April 2012

Same old scams....

They say they oldest are the best or something along those lines so maybe that's why I discovered today that a scam that first circulated a couple of years ago is alive and well and still trying to pull in the unsuspecting into parting with their cash.

Down at my Dad's today, he celebrates his 80th birthday in a couple of weeks but is still capable of youthful quickness of thought when necessary, I walked in to the living room to witness him advising someone on the telephone that yes. they had the right name but the number must be wrong because all the computers at the Mental Health Trust were all fine. The call continued for a few minutes longer with Dad insisting that the caller had reached some Mental Health Trust and that the computers were all fine. Eventually he lost his patience and rather impolitely advised the caller that they should go forth and multiply.

I asked who the call was from and he replied that is was that Indian fella again. What Indian fella I asked. The one that keeps telling me my computer upstairs is causing madness and mayhem in the town because it's filled with viruses says Dad. Now that computer upstairs runs with Windows 95 (remember that?) and has never to my knowledge, been connected to the internet. So it must be this old scam still playing then.

Apparently Dad keeps getting calls offering him once in a lifetime opportunities to buy shares too. Guess he must be on some gullible  list but goodness knows why because Dad is still sharp as a knife on stuff like this and has never fallen for anything like that. That's my Dad but my reason for publishing this is to remind people that some older (and younger for that matter) do fall for scams like this and it's always worth publicising so that more money does not make its way to any more sleaze balls pockets.

25 April 2012

Rambling Allsorts and Thanks

What a week it has been! As events have been so swift moving, dramatic and stressful this is a bit of a departure to my normal blogging style in that it's more a report and a huge list of thanks you's.

For those of you that follow Aiden's blog, you will know that on Sunday we received the devastating news that WM Police held him partially responsible for his accident because he failed to brake! Aiden was very eloquent and angry about this and explained why this was such a travesty and so very wrong here and here. We started tweeting anyone who was prepared to listen to our story and also WM Police because we just could not accept that this was the result of a true and thorough investigation. The Police always knew there would be a complaint at the end of their investigation because of our concerns over the policy of not attending all but the most serious of accidents but now my attention had to turn to how on earth such a conclusion could have been reached and what we could do to obtain a review.

Along came St Bob on a Bike of Brownhills who published this brilliant summary of the whole situation and added some choice comments of his own. Well we wouldn't expect anything less from our Bob now would we? Bob's blog is widely read and the item was duly picked up by BBC RadioWM.

In the meantime Assistant Chief Constable Marcus Beale, on holiday made the mistake of checking his twitter account and the wheels of WM Police began grinding in earnest. An email advising us that the file was  under review was received and then I was invited to participate in a discussion about cycling safety on BBC RadioWM along with Police Superintendent Sean Russell. That discussion is well covered in another of Bob's supportive, accurate and well written articles here. I need say no more.

At the same time fellow Walsall blogger The Plastic Hippo published a devastatingly brilliant piece in support  of Aiden and others who have suffered injustices at the hands of the Police. I urge you to read this. It's important.

To the thanks. Firstly to Brownhills Bob, fellow cyclist and a supportive friend. Your blogs made a world of difference and changed events and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thanks also to The Plastic Hippo although when reading your blogs I never feel worthy enough to comment, such is the power of your writing. And thanks to Marcus Beale for being an approachable copper who keeps his word. If only there were more like you.

I also want to thank the very many people who have supported both Aiden and me on Twitter, Facebook, through the blogs, on cycling forums, through email, texts, phone calls, in every way imaginable. Every contact has been valued and gratefully received and to fall back on being ever so Uriah Heep once again,  we have been humbled. You're all fantastic people.Thank you.

Seems we've got ourselves into a safer cycling  campaign now and neither of us will be quitting. The stress and anxiety we have both endured have left their marks and scars on both of us but we do consider ourselves to be very lucky and we will see all of this through to what we hope will be a good conclusion.

For some light relief and also because we both adore the place, we attended the first meeting of the Friends of Park Lime Pits last night, held in The Manor Arms and organised by the truly committed Morgan Bowers, I wonder if Walsall Council know how lucky they are in having such a hard working and dedicated employee? If you use the Lime Pits and would like to participate actively in its future, I urge you to join us. You can email/message me and I'll add your details to the impressive list in terms of numbers who attended last night and let you have details of our first working get together.

And finally...I've mentioned my former life in the Inland Revenue rather a lot recently in this blog. It seems things have changed a lot in the 16 years since I left. Today I discovered that HMRC, their successors, now have a whole department dedicated to dealing with complaints and that currently a complaint will not be answered for five weeks! I was reflecting upon just how many complaints does a department receive in order to have to set up a dedicated sub-department to deal with them and just how many are currently pending if it takes five weeks to respond? It seems that the days of dealing with the odd complaint on the day of receipt have long gone, How very sad in all respects and how indicative of what our public services are reduced to, no longer being able for whatever reason to provide a decent service at the point of contact but being reduced to damage limitation exercises.

23 April 2012

A little less cynicism, satisfaction guaranteed...

It can be very difficult sometimes not to be cynical particularly if you work in a stressful job where you can often see the worst that human kind can offer. It is easy to become hardened and immune to the sensitivities that mark us out as caring, to see and treat everyone with scepticism in a way that says ‘I’ve heard it all before’. This is particularly so for those in the so called caring professions such as in health care and social care but is equally pertinent for say police officers, civil and public servants and the like.

 I speak from experience. Cue boos and hisses again. My last 10 years in the Inland Revenue, which I left in 1996 were spent as an accounts investigator. It wasn’t a pleasant job and it could be incredibly stressful and confrontational. I tried to be as empathetic as I could during interview situations but after you’ve heard the same story of poverty and near destitution from someone sitting in front of you wearing expensive designer clothing and enough bling to light up Blackpool, a few times, you tend towards the disbelieving and that itch of cynicism becomes an all over body rash. When you realise that this is happening it’s cold shower and wake up time and an opportunity to remind yourself that every person you see is an individual with their own fears and worries and that they may be telling you the truth. When I couldn’t do that any longer and approached the office door each morning with a lead weight inside my stomach I knew I had to get out or I would betray myself, my conscience and my life. I have never regretted leaving because if I hadn’t I would have lost my humanity and my natural inclination towards believing in the best of people.

 Pass me that yoghurt to knit.

 In recent times I have been unfortunate in having had encounters with people who perhaps need that cold shower or worse have been doing their job for far too long and need out before they destroy some poor persons life, not deliberately I hasten to add but by default. Hence my capacity for complaining, it is an action not just for obtaining some sort of justice but also a tool that I would hope would cause pause for reflection. Sometimes it is necessary to step back and remember your own humanity and why you wanted to do that job or provide that service in the first place. It is also necessary to remember that although you may see on occasion the absolute worst in people, the majority of those people are decent and although you may not think that what they are presenting you with is important, it is important to them and that decisions you make and the service that you provide can have a devastating impact in terms of stress and worry or indeed the opposite and freedom from those things.

 Those people you deal with though, they always have the capacity to surprise you and cause a break in the monotony and cynicism build up. I once had to deal with an elderly gentleman who had retired at 65 and then set up his own company, traded successfully for 20 years, retired again and then decided he really must let the authorities know what he’d been up to and pay a little tax. He came in without an appointment to see me far more often than he needed to and I wanted him to, always filling my office with an overpowering smell of Old Spice along with his dapper dress and impressive manners. We got along on a professional basis very well and he made me laugh. We had one final meeting to negotiate his settlement offer and I was concerned to see that he hung a walking stick on the corner of my desk. The meeting went well and was cordial. Settlement was reached and he duly signed an offer. When business had finished he stood up, shook my hand and then reached for his walking stick and handed it to me. Perplexed I took it whilst he then proceeded to bend over my desk. ‘Ms Mason’, he said, ‘I’ve been a very naughty boy and I insist that you administer my punishment with the stick in your hand.’ I was mortified at the time and the gentleman was escorted off the premises. Five minutes later I was giggling away whilst relating the episode to my colleagues. It provided us all with a good laugh, a little steam was let go and with that some of that hard hearted cynicism.

 Formal complaints processes weren’t in vogue back then but neither were soul destroying unobtainable targets. Maybe those targets that apparently demonstrate how wonderful everyone is or how wonderful they would like us to think that they are, mean that working time excludes a little light relief time, which in turn leads to more cynicism and by default more destruction and complaints.

 Here endeth tonight’s ramblings of one old, tired and mad old baggage……

18 April 2012

Fairy Tales, Farces and Pantomimes

In a land that time has since forgotten I started my first job at the tender age of 16 in what was then the Inland Revenue. Cue customary boos and hisses. I don't want to paint an over rosy view of those far flung days of the late 1970s but things were different. Once trained at whatever grade or level, you were given responsibility, an allocation of work, for a set of taxpayers as they were then known, rather than the so called customers of today. On a day to day basis you looked after those people, dealt with all correspondence or referred it upwards if that was necessary, took all telephone calls and if they came into what was quaintly called 'the counter' (now an enquiry point)you went to see them. Hopefully you answered their questions, resolved problems and disputes and although nobody has ever enjoyed paying tax, you provided a decent service to your public.

Of course there were slackers, show me any work place back then that didn't carry dead weight but they were a minority. The vast majority of the civil servants I worked with and for, were hard working people who took a pride in providing a good public service. The fact that you had your own allocation of work gave you ownership and responsibility. I'm not sure what the set up for allocating work is now but what I do know is that you cannot any longer speak to the actual officer responsible for your taxation affairs. I suspect that this is because there is not actually any ownership at all. If you telephone it is to a helpline, where to actually speak to a person it is necessary to endure several minutes of 'look at our website' propaganda, followed by 'we're extremely busy, why not call back later...if you insist' and then Muzak. Eventually you speak to a person who is not responsible for the letter that you received, who cannot put you through to the person who wrote that letter but who merely makes a note of your call to 'pass it on'. If you visit one of the few remaining local tax offices, you will be encouraged to use the free telephone to the helpline.

Those big bad Unions warned of all this and how public services would be affected many years ago when Thatcher first started slashing at the numbers of civil and public servants. They continued to emphasise the downward spiral of services that would be available and the service given when New Labour talked of efficiencies in back room jobs, whatever they were and they tried again when 'call me Dave' Cameron began his scorched earth policy of decimating what was left of not just the civil service but of all our public services; ambulance, fire, police, local authority workers, nurses, doctors, carers, amongst some of the services that have now been affected.

Now you may think 'so what', you're not a civil or public servant, you work hard, you pay your taxes and you try to get by. You're not going to shed crocodile tears for what you may think are under worked, over paid public servants. Well you might not until you have to use one of the services that have been slashed and burned. The lack of nursing staff say, might grab the headlines. What doesn't grab the headlines is the sheer lack of quality in services that can be given now by those services we most expect it from.

I have no doubt that the vast majority of public servants loathe the fact that they no longer have the time and resources to provide the service that they would like to. This is the reality of cuts to services, you don't actually get a service and nobody wants to take ownership of your problem, serve you well and see your experience through to a decent conclusion because to do so would put them in the firing line, perhaps even illicit a complaint.

Complaints...they have unfortunately become a sad fact of life for me since Aiden's accident on 1 March and I hate it. I hate the fact that the only way you get any service at all or to obtain answers as to why something has happened be it good or bad, is to complain or perhaps to ask for details in the proscribed and official manner because nobody will speak 'off the cuff' for fear of repercussions. Even when you do complain there are still ways that can be utilised to wriggle and squirm and fail to provide a service and the mantra appears to be certainly do not provide anything in writing because it may be kept and then used as evidence against you. The reality of service in the public sector has sadly descended to this level.

We paid out money, took our choice and voted and look what we have.

If you suffer a road traffic accident the police will not attend, well not in the West Midlands anyway. Policy is such that only the most serious accidents as decided by Control, will be attended. Now I can understand this to a certain extent because you do not want valuable police time and resources utilised on a grazed knee and a slightly bent bumper. As Aiden pointed out on his blog however, woe betide you if you suffer an accident and the 999 call is treated with contempt because Ambulance Control decide it is not serious, inform the Police accordingly and you could be lying on a major route out of Birmingham, blocking two lanes of traffic, experiencing more pain than you could believe possible due to life changing injuries and then to add insult to injury, you then are unable to get the Police to mount an investigation without the involvement of a very senior officer and you cannot obtain information pertinent to events immediately following your accident because the Ambulance Service falsely hide behind third party protection mantra, totally contradictory to the advice they are given by the Information Commissioners Office.

Further insult is added when a belated investigation then finally commences a whole month or more after the accident has taken place but the results of that investigation cannot be relayed to you because a particular officer happens to be on nights and apparently an email isn't an option. Or perhaps the Ambulance service try to forget you exist and the hospital that left you breathless with their incompetency, lack of care and ignorance finally acknowledge a complaint some four weeks after it was made by letting you know it's going to be another month before they fully respond and can you tell us if you're happy with that?

This is the reality of our public services these days, this is the reality of cutting services to the bone and then cutting again. Individuals that work for the services that we all use in one form or another would like, I'm sure, to be able to provide a good and decent service and there are many examples of those individuals going the extra mile to do so but on the whole, you cannot serve the people if you're not given the resources to do so in the first place.

Of course you can use social media to put a PR gloss on how wonderful you would like the public to think you are and aren't we wonderful for embracing the brave new world in this manner but at the end of the day it doesn't matter how hard you buff away, you cannot polish a turd.