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, because 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 people 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 it 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.
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 suit 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 there 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, whereas 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 time, 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.
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 challenges. 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 the 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 “Privatisation” 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.
Way back at the beginning of 2017 I posted about a familiar face popping up on FaceBook and how I was in two minds as to whether I should make contact or not. Looking back, I don’t think I posted that I did get in touch. We had a good evening out some time later, and have kept in touch (on and off) ever since. In fact, we had lunch just recently. Now this is where the title comes in. At that first evening meeting we talked about our family and such. But then we got onto work, and it turned out that this old school friend worked for the son of my maternal grandmothers brother (my mothers cousin). Not only did he work for him, but he knew my grandmother and often visited her. All this came out at that evening out. And before you ask, we both did have that amount of hair in those days.
Then around June time, last year I noticed a post, again on FaceBook from a friend that I worked with way back in the late 1980’s. Back in 1986, I went to work as a clerical officer for the Local Authority. She started in 1988 as a clerical officer and left that job around 2001 which caused us to lose touch. The post in question was a reply to another post from a current local friend who knew this girl from college way back in the late 1970’s. Thankfully, although she now lives in New Zealand we are now back in touch again. She and her husband are a couple of the nicest people I know.
Leap forward to this month (May 2019) and the relative smallness of the world is again raising it’s head. This time, through this very blogging platform. I was reading through some of the comments on a post I had just read. I often have a look at blogs of people who make interesting comments and this was no exception. One of the commenters (is that what they are called?) I visited had an interesting post that had an image of a place near where we used to live. I commented on the post and to cut a long story short, after a couple of messages I now find out that this person lives close to my wife’s father, and may even know him. I refer you back to the title …
To be honest, we don’t get much personal mail the the postal system. It tends to be bank statements, information from various Governmental organisations and stuff like that. The occasional holiday postcard might find it’s way in there, but not so often these days.
But what we do seem to get a lot of, is mail that is addressed to either one or both of us offering some kind of financial service. These usually get dumped along with the rest of the junk flyers. What we have seen a rise in, is post that includes an application form, where all our personal details are all ready completed. One such form came on Monday that had 4 pages (pages, 8 sides in total) that had my name and address in 6 places. All this information has to be, according to the ‘experts’ shredded to prevent dubious sorts getting hold of my details.
Now a big issue with shredding, is that the Local Authority is unable to recycle shredded paper as they claim “We do not collect shredded paper in the green recycling bins. This is because we are unable to process it due to the small fibers which can interfere with the machinery creating costly maintenance issues”. My email to them suggesting they look to upgrade their machinery (and their spellchecking software) seems to have fallen on deaf ears as I am yet to receive a reply. Their advice is to “only shredding the parts of documents that contain your personal details e.g. name, address etc” which makes the task significantly longer.
Then this morning, I received a item of post from an organisation (I’m not going to mention their name, as I’m awaiting a reply from them) that I had never heard of, that had my name and address on both pieces of paper. I was quite annoyed about this, as one of the sheets was asking for a donation. The donation range started at a single £5.00 increasing up £1000.00 and what really tipped the balance was that the £25.00 check box had already been ticked. The other page was one of those ‘sob stories’ that are supposed to trigger an emotional response. They don’t work with me I’m afraid.
I have emailed a complaint about this and asked them to remove my details from their database, and name the source of the information. I doubt that either will happen. I have also redacted my details from the 2 pages and have posted it all back to them in their enclosed pre-paid envelope.
There is an issue here. I/we get quite a lot of documents sent by the post that has personal information contained within the document. On the one hand, we are told by the financial sector, that we must destroy (I.e. shred) old documents that has this information yet on the other hand the Local Authority refuse department tell us that they “cannot accept shredded paper in the recycling bins, as it jams the (?) machinery”. Their advice is to either put the general waste bin or “it is good to put on your compost heap!” Now, I do not know how many people have a compost heap, especially those who live in tower blocks, but the amount we shred is far too much to compost. We have a ‘Hot Compost’ bin that we do put some of the shredding in, but that can only take about 5% of it’s volume in paper.
I know, I can get things like bank statements and the such as online documents, but there are some things, that you need as a physical copy for a length of time. Things such as mortgage agreements, hospital/doctors correspondence, old banking documents from before they were online etc. When my eldest sold his house, there were over 150 pages, from the bank that had some form of personal information on. Most of the sheets had this information in more than one place, making if difficult to just shred the important bits. Also, none of this includes the number of envelopes and packages that have names, addresses and often order numbers on.
I did make a suggestion to the refuse department that maybe, upon request, they could supply some form of bag that should be used for shredded paper. They would then be able to prevent this paper from ‘jamming’ their machine. I’m not holding out for a favourable response.
So what the Local Authority is saying is that if you do as the bank tells you, it will go into landfill. In my opinion, that is not good enough!
I have to say, that possibly one of the downsides of working for a Local Authority, is that getting rid of ‘dead wood’ is damn near impossible. People can be totally incompetent, and they seem to be untouchable. It’s everyone elses fault that they are useless. It is all put down to ‘a training issue’ and management has not trained them properly. Well that is the case sometimes, but when some takes a shortcut to allegedly save time, after being told not to, then that is not a training issue. That is a disciplinary issue !!!!
The council is looking to save money by cutting back on recruitment. Better way …. sack the crap and employ quality staff.