Wednesday, 25 May 2016
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.