`Does Big Brother exist?
`Of course he exists…'
`Does he exist in the same way as I exist?'
`You do not exist'…
Salford City Council has enforced a new gagging order on all of its 8,890 employees under its `People Management Policy' to enshrine their `duty of loyalty' to the authority and to `serve the Mayor'.
Under the chairmanship of Strategic Assistant Mayor, Councillor Paul Dennett, the policy was agreed in October and implemented at the end of November, supported by Councillors Paula Boshell, Bill Hinds, Karen Garrido, David Lancaster, Gena Merrett, John Merry and Margaret Morris.
Councillor Dennett oversaw the ridiculously titled `Humanagement and Workplace Reform' department at the Council which was supposed to `humanely manage' staff, until it disappeared from public view in February 2014. Now Councillor Dennett – who many believe is being lined up to replace retiring Mayor Ian Stewart in 2016 – has re-surfaced as chief Thought Police architect.
All staff, from lollipop ladies to bin men, are expected to act as "ambassadors" for Salford City Council in both their working lives and private lives, and will be subject to disciplinary measures if they transgress.
The new draconian code is designed to stifle any criticism of the Council and to stop employees and trade unions leaking information to the press or public about the impending savage cuts to jobs and services.
The Council report which led to the new Code states: "Employees are increasingly being involved earlier in the difficult budget and service proposals and are being encouraged to contribute their ideas and feedback through appropriate feedback channels. The refresh of the Code of Conduct provides the opportunity to clarify the position with regards to what is acceptable with regards to disclosure of information, confidentiality and public statements."
`Gross Misconduct' charges can be brought for actions `inside or outside work' for "Any action which is likely to bring the council into disrepute", or undermining its so-called "credibility", including "negative comments in public statements" and "Making unauthorised statements to the media".
Staff can also be disciplined on `Misconduct' charges, even while `off duty' for anything "which conflicts with the Authority's interests". The Code of Conduct states "Your life away from work is normally your personal concern. You should not however put yourself in a position where your job, or the City Council's interests, and your own interests conflict. This includes behaviour which would undermine the council's confidence or trust in you or that which could harm the council's reputation."
In a section called Serving Salford City Council, it adds "As employees you owe a duty of loyalty to the council and must not work against the best interests of the council...You must not make any statements to the media, or any other public statement which concerns the business of the council, unless you have been authorised to do so...Council officers must not discuss council business with the press or the public without express permission from their service head. This includes speaking, writing or giving interviews to the media..."
It continues... "No employee should ever, either during the course of their employment or in their private life:
•Publicise confidential information gained in the course of their employment;
•Maliciously undermine the council and its decisions by adverse or negative
•Take personal issues concerning their employment to the media;
•Bring the council into disrepute by the extremity of their views".
Of course, deciding what are "adverse or negative comments" and "extremity of their views" is left to the whim of those controlling the Council.
Perhaps the most malicious part of the policy states that "If you are a trade union representative, local resident or member of a local action group, you should take care to ensure that any statements you make in such a capacity do not breach this Code. The Council recognises your right to take part in lawful trade union activity; however this does not extend to a right to make statements that are malicious, untruthful or irrelevant"
Again, who decides what is "malicious, untruthful or irrelevant"? If a Council trade union rep says in public that it is wrong to cut transport for disabled people is this `malicious', `negative' and `undermining the Council'? If someone who works for the Council posts on Facebook that they are supporting, say, the Reality Party, will that lead to gross misconduct charges? It appears that the code is set up to victimise any of the almost 9,000 people who are connected with the Council and dare to speak out in public about anything the Authority dislikes.
"By making public comments, for example through the media (social or traditional)
you abandon any rights to have your comments treated as private and any
intervention by the council may be justified without breaching your right to freedom of expression or a private and family life" the Code states "...it does not matter whether you are communicating face to face, by telephone, email, through social networking sites, or any other means. The rules apply to all ways of communicating.
"Inappropriate comments made on social networking sites (whether you have enabled privacy settings or otherwise) about your employment with the council, the council at large or any employees or former employees of the council could amount to a breach of this Code and result in disciplinary action" it adds.
The code gives a list of risks using any social media including `Damage to the council's reputation' and adds "In light of these risks, the use of social media sites should be regulated to ensure that such use does not damage the council, its employees, councillors, partners and the people it serves"...`Partners' would include companies like Peel Holdings!
There's even a section where employees are encouraged to spy on their workmates... "Where inappropriate use is suspected, in addition to reporting the incident using the relevant reporting procedure, it is suggested that staff should also pro-actively attempt to capture any inappropriate posts (before they might be deleted)..."
It adds: "Managers may also be required to review and investigate the personal use of social media that takes place in or outside of working hours where concerns are raised or identified", and while it states that that they "Must not as a matter of course monitor employees social media pages", adds "It is likely that this information will already be in the public domain therefore permission to access personal accounts will not be required."
It's all very chilling, autocratic and, we hate to say, typical of what Salford City Council has become under the tutelage of elected Mayor Ian Stewart and his posse of Assistant Mayors.
"Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four. If that is granted all else follows…" George Orwell 1984
• We don't expect any comments on this article from Salford City Council staff as they might be up on a `Gross Misconduct' charge. However, please be advised that if any Council employee wants to speak to the Salford Star we will always guarantee anonymity.
* See also previous Salford Star article - Salford Mayor sets police onto anti-cuts protester - click here