Saturday, 13 October 2012

So, is it OK to dislike Nick Walkley?

Barnet Council CEO Nick Walkley is changing jobs. He has handed in his notice - a privilege he still enjoys while he denies it to so many Barnet Council employees under him who his decisions have made and will make redundant. He expects to be confirmed soon in his new post of CEO for our neighbouring borough of Haringey.

How pleasant to be able to choose the time of your own departure, to control your own career in this way. How pleasant to be at the top of the local government food chain instead of anywhere further down. (Even fellow senior managers at Barnet are losing their jobs in a restructure.)

There has been much speculation about why Walkley is walking. How prescient, some say, to go now before the shit hits the One Barnet fan (much the most popular theory).

I have recorded some scathing views about Nick Walkley lately. I recorded some even more scathing views that failed to make it into the pages of local newspapers, who know the law on defamation better than I do: I’ll say them here instead in more measured tones.

I said I didn’t understand why Haringey would want to appoint as their CEO a man who is despised by many of the staff under him and by most of those Barnet residents who actually know who he is.

I think this statement skirts the safe side of defamation - but, more to the point, is the statement just and why?

I believe it is just and here is why. I have felt a little guilty for the forthrightness of my views - a man’s a man for a’ that - but then I remember this:

This is the poster that Nick Walkley ordered to be plastered around the staff areas at Barnet Council offices on the eve of a legal strike in September 2011 by workers whose jobs are going to be outsourced to the private sector.

Workers who could lose their jobs in that outsourcing, or who, if they keep their jobs, will certainly have to work harder and probably for less money – for how else are ‘savings’ to be achieved? Workers who would be no better than dumb animals if they did not try to defend themselves in the face of this.

On this occasion, I am happy to say, Nick Walkley’s poster campaign, his attempt at intimidation, had the opposite effect to that intended and made those planning to strike even more determined to go ahead.

Any other outcome would have been unjust. Can’t Nick himself see that?

How would he, Nick, feel, I wonder, if he went into work and was confronted with walls of posters aimed at him that said something like: “you are not breaking any laws but I would like to remind you that your job is not safe, I can sack you if I can find a pretext, do your job obediently and know that I am watching you – Your Boss”.

I’m quite sure he wouldn’t like it. So why does he think it is alright to do it to others?

I have examined the evidence, and I have come to the conclusion that not only is it OK but it is in fact completely sensible to dislike Nick Walkley.

I have set out the reasons why below, in the shape of an ‘Open Letter to Nick Walkley’, since that is evidently a medium that he feels to be effective – if it’s good enough for the workers, it’s good enough for him, their boss.
An open letter to Nick Walkley  
These are the levels on which I believe it is reasonable to dislike you.  
First, on a completely impersonal level, for occupying a class position that allows you to bully those under you while you naturally assume your right to control your own destiny, to name your own price. For the hypocrisy involved in that.  
For the conversation we had in the lunch queue at NLBP where you said you had no moral responsibility for the way Lovells employees, who had earlier been transferred from Barnet Homes, were treated when the company went bust. For the look of puzzlement on your face when it was suggested otherwise. For leaning on the law (be afraid lest one day it lean on you).  
For exercising your right to govern – though in whose name it is not at all clear. Who are you meant to serve? Who do you in fact serve? The people or yourself?  
For getting lucky in life; for riding your luck, and, worst of all, not reflecting on how lucky you are. In short, for your ignorance.  
I am a socialist so I would call your ignorance the ignorance typical of the ruling class. There are many Nick Walkleys in this world; they don’t choose to do what they do, but their class position, the way things are structured, makes it impossible for them to act otherwise than they do.  
Second, for something you did choose, for the job you do. For being among the small professional elite of local government chief executive officers taking fat salaries – in your own case, for no discernible benefit shown to the residents of this borough.  
In cahoots with each other and with the outsourcing companies that want to take over running our public services, not out of the love of mankind but for venal reasons, boosting their profits and in the process making a few richer while most will only see worse services out of the deal and endure harder working lives.  
For pushing through a privatisation plan, One Barnet, that no resident has agreed to. For not even seeing that that is a problem, that politics and perceptions matter.  
For not understanding why, whether you deserve it or not, people think you are running away from Barnet, deserting a sinking ship, behaving like a rat. You moan about the rough ride the bloggers have given you, without having the wit to know why people criticise you or taking the trouble to look at what they see as faults in the system. Don’t we pay you enough to do that?  
Here you are the civil servant, Walkley. You serve a master, any master. You bend with the wind; how readily you bend.  
People wonder how you will fare transferring, as it were, from a flagship Tory borough to a borough with no Conservative councillors. I don’t think this switch will trouble you one iota; and you are so much the worse for that.  
Third, and finally, yes, on the personal level, it is reasonable to dislike you. To dislike you just for being who you are, for being Nick Walkley.  
In order to remember why, I just look at that poster, your decision, your doing, and signed, by you, Nicholas Walkley. 
Vicki Morris
Barnet resident


Mrs Angry said...

To be fair to Walkley (why, why, why, Mrs A) I think he was away when the posters were stuck up, & the odd thing was that although it was done in his name, it was as 'Nicholas' rather than Nick. It may have been someone else's idea in his absence, and the glaring miscalculation of such a step might indicate so too. Not like him to be so unsubtle.

Citizen Barnet said...

Thanks, Mrs A. That's the first time I've heard that. Who dunnit, do you think?

Citizen Barnet said...

Actually, if it hadn't been so long ago, this might have been a candidate for a Freedom of Information (FoI) request! We could have found out the answer to this question and not had to speculate.

FoI Club. It sounds like Fight Club.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

I was quite pleased when Nick Walkley was appointed Chief Executive. On a personal level, he had always been polite and courteous to me. In my previous dealings with him, he seemed to appreciate that there was an unhealthy obsession with secrecy within the council. I genuinely believed that he would open the council machine to sunlight. Sadly, I was wrong. The culture of secrecy still permeates through every fibre of the council’s being. Indeed, secrecy is the council’s default setting.

Under Walkley, there has been a serious erosion of democratic accountability. The changes to the council’s constitution are a retrograde step in anyone’s book. Nobody is perfect (not even Mrs Angry) but the refusal to acknowledge mistakes (and there have been many) is a sign of weakness.

Under Walkley, the council has closed it ears and its mind to the collective wisdom of the people it is supposed to serve. Walkley’ s Barnet knows best. How dare the little people presume to think that they might have something to contribute to the debate.

Perhaps his biggest failure was the failure to control the conduct of councillors. A Chief Executive must not engage in the political process, but his failure to protect Kate Salinger from bullying and his failure to prevent the excesses of Brian Coleman should exclude him from holding senior positions on the public payroll. Haringey are welcome to him.

Mrs Angry said...

Clearly Mrs A IS perfect in every way, DCMD, although her earthly manifestation may have one or two unfortunate flaws in her character ... I think there was little Walkley could do about Kate S & Coleman, but his culpability in other areas is far greater - allowing as you say the culture of secrecy to become even heavier, presiding over a council whose incompetence in procurement went unnoticed for so long, but most of all for promoting the wholescale privatisation of services in such an ill considered and high risk plan. We are led to believe he started his career with rather more liberal, lefty views: if so, then something has gone awfully wrong somewhere, hasn't it? Maybe a choice of exile to Haringey is his penance. Oh, hang on, might have to write a post about this now ...

Don't Call Me Dave said...

No, Mrs A, he could have done something about errant councillors. The role and effectiveness of the Standards Committee has eroded under his watch. He had no control over changes brought in by government, but he could have used his powers to beef up the disciplinary system. He allowed a situation to occur where a councillor remained on the committee whilst being investigated by that same committee. Instead of increasing the effectiveness and participation of lay members, he increased the power of the councillors, despite the obvious conflict of interest.

Mrs Angry said...

hmm, good point. I had assumed the standards regime had always been the toothless body I witnessed. Now, of course there is effectively no standards regime at all, as you will see if you pop across to my latest post ...