From then to now … gets a bit boring !

When I say ‘… a bit boring …’, I mean that nothing really eventful happened. YawnA few new residents zones installed, new staff, new equipment but nothing startling for about six years. The team and me just plodded along. So as I say, when I look back, it was just a bit boring. Still enjoyed the job and most of the staff were easy to work with and I had built up a bit of a reputation, but that was about it.

Then, towards then end of 2012 rumours started appearing about job/staff changes. We had two members of staff leave and they were not replaced and this started to worry a few people. We were told that they would be replaced in the new year, but that we would have to manage until then. Which of course we did.

Around about this time, the Council were beginning to look at reducing staff to cut costs. Central Poundsfunding was being cut and departmental budgets were being squeezed. The Council was promoting what the called ‘Early Leavers Initiative’ or ELI. Essentially what this was voluntary redundancy. Staff would leave, get the standard redundancy payment and gain access to their works pension. I thought about this a lot and K*** and me decided that it might be a good move. Leave the Council and get another job somewhere else with a nice lump sum of money in the bank. So in January 2013, I applied for this ‘ELI’. After a few weeks, I received a reply, explaining that I could not be considered as I was ‘too valuable to the service’.

Later in 2013 me and a colleague (one who I had a bit of an issue with) received an email, quite out of the blue which explained that service was being reviewed and that we were part of that review. I Astoundedqueried this ‘review’ with the Assistant Manager who dismissed it as ‘… just something the Head of Service had to do and that it would not affect us …’ His face was a picture when both me and my colleague, G*** forwarded him the email we had received. He still claimed that it would not be an issue and that he would get someone to explain it all to us.

A couple of weeks later someone from HR did come and explain. What was happening was that some Worriedof the posts throughout the department were being looked at, to try and centralise some of the functions. the example they gave was that G***, who was our Training Officer would probably serve the department better if she worked within the Training team, where there would be vacancies in the future. The same applied to me, and I would be of more use in the departments IT service area. We were assured that we would still have a job, but it was still a very worrying time and made a mockery of the reason I was rejected for ELI. Not so valuable now, I thought.

Internet abuse …

You may be aware that I work part-time in a local café. One of the many features of this café, is their free Wi-Fi. The access Wi-Ficode is displayed for anyone to use if you know where to look. Most customers will use the Wi-Fi for what it is there for i.e. so they can check their emails or show someone pictures on their phone, that kind of thing. However, there is an increasing number of customers that seem to visit the café with the sole purpose of accessing the the free internet.

On Tuesday this week, I arrived at work around 10:20, which is my usual time and noticed a customer sat at a 4 seater table. He had his laptop open and was also using his phone. I also noticed he was wearing Mikea pair of headphones and one of those ‘cheek mikes’ that seem to be the norm these days. I hovered around his table for a few seconds before entering the kitchen and realised that he was conducting some kind of interview Customerswith somebody. Over the course of the next couple of hours, he still seemed to be talking to someone and on a couple of occasions, he got quite animated. He eventually left at around 12:45, or at least that’s when I noticed he had gone. From what I could see, he had drunk one cup of coffee and who knows how many glasses of free water. I mentioned to the chef that he had gone and he explained that he had been sat at the table since about 09:00. Just one cup of coffee!! The table staff have been told not to move people on, but to keep asking if they require anything else. They call  it ‘good customer service’. But what about the ‘good customer service’ for the customers who cannot get a seat?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for getting free Wi-Fi in places I visit, but come on … lets not abuse it.

From then to now … Things can only get better !

Things did start to get better as the next few years progressed. Staff realised that I was not the ‘bossy’ type that the previous occupier of the post.

In 1991 the Government decided to ‘de-criminalise’ parking offences. The Road Traffic Act 1991 (RTA), allowing local authorities to issue parking tickets for contraventions such as: parking on yellow lines, footway parking, not displaying valid pay and display tickets or parking permits within a Controlled Parking Zone (CPZ). Leeds were now starting to look at the pros and cons of this new legislation. But before that could happen, Leeds needed a new processing system. I was asked, More moneybecause of my ‘technical knowledge’ to be part of the team that looked at the different systems that were available. Unusually for me, I asked what it was worth? The manager had been expecting this and offered me an upgrade in scale to S5. I remember sitting there pretending to think about and then, even more unusual for me, I countered with ‘”Could you make it S6?” I think he had been expecting this and he agreed, there and then.

There were many trips out to various Local Authorities to see their systems and to talk to users before we settled on ours. One of the the things that kept cropping up, was residential parking, or parking outside your own property. As more and more Residents Parking signpeople had cars, and the cost of parking those cars increased, many drivers took to parking in residential streets, much to the annoyance of the local residents. To try and overcome this problem Local Authorities set up Residents Parking Zones which allowed the residents within that ‘zone’ to obtain a parking permit(s) for themselves and visitors. Leeds were using card permits that were hand written with any required details and they did not look very professional.

The new legislation would give the Council control over the parking in these Residents zones, and parking-permitit was decided that any new system would have to be able to cope with the issue of more accurate and professional permits. This also meant that jobs and job titles would have to change. Parking Attendants became Civil Enforcement Officers, clerks became Customer Service Officers and a new team called Appeals Officers was created. The new system used mail-merge for the first time to create individual and personalised letters. This meant that we could now send parking permits that were no longer hand written and could not be easily forged. It became one of my jobs to both design and implement these new style permits when we were ready to take on the new service. That new service started in 2005 and things started to get better for everyone.

From then to now … “The Only Way Is Up !”

The daily, weekly and monthly back-ups were a bit of a bind for most people, so as I had taken over the job, my popularity had begun to grow a little. However, this wasn’t to last. The scaling system for what was essentially junior office staff started with S1, then S1/2 then S3 followed by S4, S5 and S6. The S1 level was reserved for staff under the age of 18. These were very few and far between at this time, so most people in the Council were S1/2 or above. I had been there just over a year when the chap on the S3 level decided to leave. He wasn’t getting the promotion he expected and he had decided to go back to the private sector. This left an opening for 7 of us on the S1/2 scale.

I wasn’t going to apply, as I felt that 3 of the others had more experience than me and were probably better suited to the joOffice Deskb. It was one of the two Supervisors that told me to apply for a number of reasons, and it gave me food for thought. Then when the other Supervisor repeated the same reasons why I should apply, I decided to bite the proverbial and I completed the required application form (no CV’s in those days for the lower grades) and handed it in. I wasn’t expecting much, but knew that all internal applications were interviewed, so really I had nothing to lose. The interview went as well as could be expected and afterwards I felt that the manager may have gone a little easy on me. This was due to the comments the other 3 main rivals had made when they thought I was out of earshot. To cut a short story even shorter, I got the job and was due to start the following Monday. This, of course did not go down well with the other internal applicants, and it soon became clear that I was back to square one with, what were now the lower grades.

The main premise of the job was to be the first line answer to written correspondence about a parking ticket. An appeal letter would come in, it would be logged by one of the S1/2’s. They would also create a file for that correspondence, and it would be passed Excess Chargeto me. My job was then to read the letter, make a decision to progress it for payment, progress it higher or cancel the ticket. I would say about 95% of the appeals that came in failed with only 1 or 2 % going to a higher level. All the rest (3%) were cancelled.

TypistThe letter writing was something I had not seen before, although I understand that it was a standard practice. All replies were constructed using pre-written standard paragraphs with some even being standard letters. All I had to do was attach a piece of ‘scrap’ paper, with a series of letters and numbers ie P1, P4, P6 etc. This would then go with the file, to the typing pool who would type up the letter and return it for posting. There were no word-processing in those days. Most of the typists used huge Canon typewriters that had a little memory but nothing like what is in use today.

But I now had a little bit of faith that I could make it in an office situation.

From then to now … getting the hang of it

For the first few weeks, I felt a little out of place. All the team I was with, bar one had been office workers since leaving school and most of them had been with a Local Authority, so I was a bit of an oddity. Most of them couldn’t seem to get their heads around why, with the qualifications I had, would I want to work in an office. This was something that had been explained to us on the course and so I was expecting it. They soon got over it within a couple of weeks, and I settled down to become an “Officer of The Council” as we were called.

The briefcase was the first thing to be ditched, quickly followed by the fountain pen and dictionary. I had also bought a Rucksacksuit and I soldiered on with that for a couple of months. We shared our office floor with a couple of other sections of the Council and I soon discovered that literally nobody carried a briefcase. Most of the women had some form of shopping/tote bag to supplement their handbag , but the men didn’t seem to have bags at all. I still had my lunch and calculator to carry, so I needed something. I eventually dug out my old school bag, which was one of those thick canvas army types that we used to be able to get from the Army and Navy stores. Now what ever happened to them?

It had been noted at my interview, that I had an interest in computers and technology. This of course led to me being given a ‘very important job’. Everyday, at 4pm I was to  perform the database back-up. Because IBM Computerthere was two types of parking ticket (on-street and car parks) we had two computer systems. The reason for this was that back in 1986 the on-street parking service (parking meters) merged with the off-street car parks service. Each brought their own systems which were not compatible. So the off-street system (car parks) used Microsoft Windows 2.1 and a software package called DataEase, dBase 2 screenwhereas the on-street part of the team had an old IBM machine that ran a program called dBase. It also ran Wordstar and Supercalc, but we never used them. It was dBase 2 that we had, but it was not like the other system which had it’s own built in back-up routine. No with this one, you first had to ‘drop out’ of the database and jump to a ‘DOS prompt’ Then you had to ‘Setpath’ which basically told the computer where to look and then type the back-up command. This had to be exact and had the location of the file to be backed-up, and the location where it was to be backed-up to. You then had to verify the back-up by following a similar routine.

It took me a couple of months before I realised that I could write a batch file to do all the leg work. When it worked first IT Experttime, I was a hero. I had shaved a good 10 minutes of the time and it was far more accurate.. The only downside to this was that I was now the Parking Departments IT expert! Everything from changing the computer plug filing the back-up discs to replacing the printer toner was now my job. I even got asked to ‘have a quick look’ at the photocopier. Other staff started to come to me with their IT related problems and I came to the attention of the IT Department. I was now the unofficial IT support (more on that later) for Parking. If IT wanted any small work doing, then I got the call and was talked through the problem and solutions. I was loving it.

From then to now … a huge change

It was expected that future ‘outsourcing’ of services (the Council did not like the word ‘Privatisation’) would result in a Steam Boilernumber of job losses. This was especially true for the catering services providing mass produced meals. The same number of people can produce 50 meals or 500 meals. It is just a matter of scale, and the large industrial caterers were more than used to this.

In an attempt to minimise job losses, Leeds City Council came up with a plan to try and train staff in threatened roles, to work as office staff. It was quite a big undertaking, but it was surprising how few ‘manual’ workers took up the option. It was posted in the monthly staff Word Processornewsletter, but the program only lasted 1 year before it was closed down, apparently due to lack of support. The way it worked was this: one day a week for 15 weeks, a trainee would attend a variety of courses. These were, touch typing, business letter construction, Council finances, office etiquette and, although computers were few and far between, word processing. The problem where I worked was the availability of the newsletter. It first went around the 4 Care Officers (managers in a word) who usually had it for a week or so, before it was passed to the Care Assistants. There were 20 of those, so it was often out of date before the kitchen staff got their hands on it. However the newsletter in question that had the advertisement for the course, was left in the kitchen by one of the officers, so it was only by chance that I saw the advert. I applied and much to everyone surprise, I got on the course.


The courses went really well and I passed them all without much trouble. I did struggle with the touch-typing, but I had the speed and got away with it. Each course came with a certificate. They wouldn’t be much use to anyone outside the Council as they were not recognisable awards, but it was till nice to get something for the achievement.

Another aspect of the course was interview skills. We all were given a mock 10 minute interview and then we were given an CVassessment on where we went right or wrong. That proved really useful. One of the trainers was in constant touch with various personnel departments and they got the first notification of any suitable jobs coming up. Towards the middle of July, about 4 weeks before the courses were due to finish, a job came up that I was told that I would be suitable for. They arranged an interview and on the 26th July I found myself sat in the Parking Managers office explaining about my computer skills. I have to mention here that I had a personaTexas Instruments TI99 4al computer at the time and was very proud that I had written a game, that had been published in a leading computer magazine. I explained about the need for accuracy whilst at the same time being prepared for boring repetition. I waffled on about being able to work in a team (catering) and being able to work alone (computer). Interview over, I went back to work. I was due to finish at 5pm that day but had been asked to stay until 6:30 to help with some entertainment that was happening that night.

When I finally got home, K**h told me that Car Park Section had rung and could I ring them at around 9am the next morning. I fully believed that I must have failed the interview and that they wanted to give me the feedback I had asked for. So feeling a little dejected, I rang from the phone in the APH kitchen. I’m told, that I changed colour during that call from my Doubtfulnormal flesh colour through white to red. I had got the job, and after discussing the minimum period of notice (only a week surprisingly) I rang back to say I could start the second week of August.

This did not go down too well with the staff at the home. All wished me luck, but I could tell that they thought I was making a mistake. “You’re a cook not a typist” was one of the more often used phrases, along with “You won’t last five minutes sitting at a desk”. All this could have  been true, but I knew that I was going nowhere in the current job, so really had nothing to lose.

So on Tuesday the 6th August 1990, with my expensive scientific calculator, fountain penBriefcase, pocket dictionary and lunchbox packed neatly into my new briefcase, I found myself back in the Parking Managers office having the office rules explained to me.

A new challenge had begun.

From then to now … yawn …

As I mentioned earlier, my time at Hillside APH was a little boring. The job had no prospects and had little in the way of Yawnchallenges. Compared to the previous 15 years, the work was easy, although some of the staff weren’t. But it paid the bills and we were soon back on the right foot again. So much so, that by December 1988 were discussing the possibility of having a child. Early in February 1989 K**h discovered that she was pregnant.

Work for me was much the same as it had been all along. The only thing that changed was that I had started to get paid for any overtime. There wasn’t much overtime and what little there was was paid as time off in lieu. Basically you worked on your day off and you got that day back at some point. For some reason, and I think it was something that the unions had been working, we were now getting paid at time and a half. So the money was increasing slightly but the work load remained the same. The problem had been (as I was led to believe)  that although the APH was owned an run by the Local Authority, the support or ancillary staff were employed by the APH and paid for out of the establishments budget. As I understood it was the unions that had forced a change, so that the support staff were now employed by the Local Authority and now came under their rules and conditions.

The pregnancy followed its course without too many problems (those are for another time) and at Babythe end of October 1998, S***e our son was born. Work was still the same, but towards the end of December things began to change.

Firstly, the Council ‘Rumour Mill’ began to feed stories into the work place. Again, the word LaundryPrivatisation” was banded about. Some APH’s in other parts of the country had trialled outsourcing some of their support jobs with laundry service seemingly the most popular. Then in January it was announced that the laundry at Hillside was to become privatised. It didn’t seem to have any effect in the early days. The staff stayed the same, they were paid the same and did the same hours. But when one retired, she wasn’t replaced. We now had two people doing the work that three used to do.

Things were starting to have the effect that the unions had been talking about for a couple of years.