1 EAGLETON NOTES: Protection from The Public

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Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Protection from The Public


I returned to The While House today. Actually it's now a rather dirty grey.  The White House was never its official title but it was the mockingly sarcastic title given to it when it was built back in the late 70s. I don't think anyone calls it that now but when it was built it was a massive structure. Now some of the private houses being built on the Island are almost as big. To what am I referring? The offices of Comhairle na Eilean Siar (The Western Isles Islands Council).

A neighbour, who is also a local Councillor, gave me a lift into town when she attended a meeting and I agreed to meet her at the Council's Offices after I'd done what I had to do. When I arrived I was met by a former colleague who was on the reception desk and presented with a visitor pass and accompanied to the Members' Lounge to await my lift home.

It was, as it happens, a very enjoyable visit because I met a number of people whom I knew and was able to keep them from their duties for a while to reminisce and catch up whilst I was given coffee.

What really struck me, though, was the security. I had to be accompanied if I wanted to move from one room to another because doors are controlled by swipe passes.

When the building was opened one of the rules laid down by the then Chief Executive (an Islander of exceptional ability and a lawyer) was that it didn't matter how senior someone was they were there to serve the public and the public had access to them. There was a certain irony in that if one had a lot of staff and responsibilities then one might well not be the best person to answer everyday operational questions. In practice that meant that unless one had a 'Do not disturb' or 'Meeting in progress' notice on one's office door anyone had relatively free access.

Now not even all staff have access to all areas.

Why? Well on balance the chances of a physical attack is almost non-existent here on Lewis. However the likelihood of someone (be they an employee or member of the public) having access to private information is very real. Now that the protection of everyone's privacy is absolutely paramount the slightest leak could be a matter for the national press to slate the Council for its laxity and enable the person to sue for large sums of money.

It's a sign of the times but I have to say it's a cause of some sadness to those of us who worked in less fraught times.

33 comments:

  1. Did they really know what they were doing when they let you in? Now it's already all over the internet that VIPs were drinking coffee and chatting with you instead of doing (other) important things! ;)

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    1. Actually Monica I was the only one drinking coffee. Everyone else was just being polite and looking after a visitor!

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  2. Aw shame.I'm not there anymore as would have come to see you. Don't miss the building though as enjoy being in town. Glad you got to catch up with friends x

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    1. Carol "I enjoy being in town" shows that you really are now a Hebridean. Most people working in offices in Stirling or Glasgow have to walk further from the car park to the office than the few minutes it takes to walk into town from The White House!

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  3. It's not only a sad situation for those of us who worked in better times but also for the public who are seeking help or information. As I teacher I had to keep my mouth closed about students except to their parents. I got used to that and am still close with any personal information today. I'm not a good source of gossip.

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    1. Indeed Red you hit the nail on the head.

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  4. Gosh, Graham, for a minute there I thought you were off to save America from itself. I'm glad I've lived the majority of my life in 'earlier' times. There's just too much about how things are done these days that I simply don't understand - or like. Glad you enjoyed your visit.

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    1. So true Pauline. I wouldn't like to be starting off now. Indeed one of the reasons I retired early was because so much was changing in a way I just didn't like.

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  5. For an area with just 26,000 inhabitants (I believe), that looks like quite some building. I wonder how many Civil Servants cover the area?

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    1. That's an interesting question Cro. The public sector accounts for a large part of the economy in marginal areas like the Western Isles which covers a large geographical area with many islands and a very small population

      The latest figures I have are from 2011 and the public sector will have fallen since then as more public services are cut or privatised.

      Public administration and defence, compulsory social security 1,040 people 7.8 % of population 7.0
      Education 1,319 9.9%
      Human health and social work activities 2,390 17.9%

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    2. The rogue 7.0 I didn't delete is the figure for Scotland as a whole. Again probably higher than, say, the Central Belt because of the size and relative small population of rural Scotland.

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  6. My goodness! That building is huge! We have nothing as large as that up here on the hill...except the hill! That's amazing! A lot of rate payers' money goes into that place and into the wallets of those roaming around it!

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    1. Lee when the building was built it housed most of the Council's central services and the number of employees was about 260. There had been very little government in the Outer Hebrides before 1975 and that was reflected in the lack of services and the relative poverty of the economy. It is hard for people to believe in this age of huge roll-on roll-off ferries that cars coming onto the Islands prior to 1975 were loaded onto the ships that brought them by crane. Indeed when I came to the Island there was no greengrocer as such for fresh fruit and vegetables. There wasn't even 625 line TV! (Remember that?) Things have changed and whilst many may bemoan the fact few, if any, would return to those days.

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  7. Being a cynic I suspect this is more about protecting government or lack of it than the populace. What people don't know they will generally not concern themselves with.

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    1. Adrian of course it's about protecting government. Why do you think the NHS has to have so many people doing admin work? Because we have become a nation of litigants in an era of target setting. The same goes for ordinary local government which used to provide roads, houses, social work services, education, building regulation control, weights and measures inspectors, education (in 1984 there were nearly 70 schools in the Outer Hebrides), water and sewerage, town and country planning, ferry services between Islands, causeways between islands, environmental health, libraries and sports facilities. Those are just the ones off the top of my head.

      So far as people not concerning themselves with what they don't know in my experience that is now quite the reverse. I think we live in an era where the chants form wonderfully opposing songs: we want less government and 'they' haven't done this, that and the other so whatever goes wrong is 'their' fault (never mine). The era of blame.

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    2. I wish I were well out of all this. I believe that small government is much more productive than having a host of folk deciding on what is best for us. I don't believe that the majority would sue for petty shortcomings in government. If they did it would probably be cheaper to pay out after a couple of years if the complainant was still pursuing the matter.
      Were I really interested then I would study the matter. Last week I came across a minor example of idiocy. It is illegal to bury a dead sheep or cow but fine to inter a dead horse. There are tower blocks full of bored folk dreaming up such nonsense. Here they got a letter insisting the burn was fenced against livestock. How are they going to stop deer, foxes, badgers and little mice having a drink. I must get a look at the letter, I bet it comes from the Fife Fencing Executive (Burn Fencing Secretariat) who's brother happens to own a fencing supply company and whose wife is a fencing contractor.
      I could rant all day but have to go and check the cattle as I'm on my own here and the little tinkers may be supping from the burn. I'll give them What Ho if they are.

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  8. Of course I am all for data protection, but I don't believe in technology (such as swipe passes) being the only solution. Offices could still be open to the public without anyone's privacy being in danger. However, it would mean that staff had to be well aware of what they are doing, and well trained as to how they can do things so that people can get the information they need without invading anyone else's privacy.
    And the best, most advanced and expensive technology does not stop someone who really wants to access data they should not access. We have made ourselves extremely vulnerable by having everything connected. A cyber criminal can get in at one weak point and slowly work his way through the entire system.

    You are so right about people wanting less government but at the same time complaining about "them" not doing enough, or not doing what they think would be best. I don't envy anyone in any government their jobs - it's nearly impossible today to offer good solutions to the ever-growing complex problems.

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    1. Before my time but I do remember reading that Germany deregulated everything after the war and recovered twice as fast as we did, despite the major cities being flattened and many of their industries shipped wholesale to the Soviet bit.
      Your Townhalls used to be tiny buildings aptly named Rathauses. There are many things wrong with Germany but calling a government building a Rathouse is pure genius. Having to go to a railway station if you ran out of milk on a Sunday was a bit of a pain but nowhere is perfect.

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    2. AS so often Meike you've hit the nail on the head: it is nearly impossible to offer good solutions to the ever-growing complex problems we face.

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    3. Adrian the introduction of Public Private Finance Initiatives was supposed to solve many problems of too hands-on government. So what do we now have? About 20 schools across Scotland closed because the builders were allowed to self-regulate on the building control regulations and now some of the schools are actually falling apart because the building regulations were ignored. But, hey, who cares? They were built quickly and (theoretically because we may never know the truth) saved the government (ie those of us who pay taxes) oodles of money.

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    4. PPF, was not initiated for anything other than hiding government expenditure. The building regulations will have been there and not waved as far as I know so the local authorities should have sent the man round like they do if you are putting a shower in your house. Showers have to have a door ten feet wide and a ramp up to it. That's just to save fat folk becoming smelly and suing the council. Back from cow counting now. It's damn miles to walk. The council ought to send someone to count them.
      The complexity of modern life is caused by administrators, they are the problem not the solution.

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    5. Building Regulations were not waived Adrian: they were allowed to self-certify so 'The Man From The Council' didn't call.

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    6. Adrian, you definitely would not get anything like milk or bread on a Sunday at Ludwigsburg station. All there is outside normal working hours are the ticket machines, and they don't work half of the time (OK, maybe 1/4 of the time). You would, however, be able to buy groceries at unbelievable prices from garages; there are some in the area that operate 24/7.
      We still have our original Rathaus here. It is not exactly tiny, as in those days (1700s) people with power did not go for tiny.

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  9. It is a sad reflection on the times we are living in. What ever happened to trust and harmonious living? Nice for you to catch up with friends.

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    1. Trust and harmonious living Diane? A pipe dream I think.

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  10. It's the way of the world now Graham isn't it? I don't know about school security on Lewis but in England every school seems to have a security fence around it these days and teachers wear smart passes around their necks. So much trust has gone. School receptions operate like reception areas in prisons. How different it was when I was a lad.

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    1. And the irony, YP, is that if someone wants to commit another 'Dunblane' stye atrocity they will still be able to.

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  11. You are so right, Graham. I suppose most of these precautions are necessary, because no part of the world seems to be immune from incursions of thieves and villains seeking to uncover information. It certainly is sad though that these things are necessary. xoxox DeeDee

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    1. I do wonder though, DeeDee, whether we aren't just overdoing it a bit. You can never defend against every incursion and I sometimes thing the effort spent in trying to do so just takes away effort from doing the real job.

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  12. I think there's a cumulative bad effect if one is constantly shutting doors and excluding people from what is basically just ordinary life.

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    1. Yes Jenny I agree with you. I think it's sad and that often the cure is worse than the perceived problem.

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  13. It's terrible what we have come to all in the name of "progress" and yet in my humble opinion we are traipsing a few steps backwards in a lot of areas.
    Gone are those good old days when one could just walk into a building (government or workplace)and be recognised and be allowed in. I remember back in my banking days I forgot my ID one morning and the guard refused to let me in even though I saw and spoke to him every morning....protocol and all that. I had to wait for my supervisor to issue a temporary ID for me to get inside the building to start my days work. Guess what.... I was in charge of all the contract staff and therefore had the combinations for several vaults that held financial documents necessary for their assigned duties.

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    1. Yes Virginia there's always been odd situations. The joke in the early days when I worked was that if you put a file under your arm you could walk into almost any office almost anywhere unchallenged.

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