Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Hezbollah-Like Splinter Faction

I have a good friend who is vegan, so I laughed like a drain when I read this excellent 1999 piece from the New Yorker magazine in which Anthony Bourdain decries vegetarians and their Hezbollah-like spinter faction (the vegans) whose daily diet eschews all animal products. 

Now I'm sure this was written around the same time that Anthony Bourdain published Kitchen Confidential which became a best selling book about his culinary adventures as  New York chef and since then he has hit the big time as TV chef travelling the world making his 'No Reservations' programmes. 

Now 'Now Reservations' revolves around food, as you would except, and while you don't see many recipes the programmes are full of Bourdain's acerbic wit as he samples the culinary delights from different countries around the world.

And though he likes to poke fun at vegans and vegetarians, I have heard him praise dishes to the skies, on occasion, that don't contain a trace of foie gras, pork blood, duck fat or butter.

But I've eaten the cassoulet at the Les Halles restaurant in New York where Anthony Bourdain made his name, and very good it is too.      

Don’€™t Eat Before Reading This

A New York chef spills some trade secrets.

Annals of Gastronomy APRIL 19, 1999 ISSUE


Monday’s fish has been around since Friday, under God knows what conditions.CREDIT ILLUSTRATION BY ADRIAN GILL

Good food, good eating, is all about blood and organs, cruelty and decay. It’s about sodium-loaded pork fat, stinky triple-cream cheeses, the tender thymus glands and distended livers of young animals. It’s about danger—risking the dark, bacterial forces of beef, chicken, cheese, and shellfish. Your first two hundred and seven Wellfleet oysters may transport you to a state of rapture, but your two hundred and eighth may send you to bed with the sweats, chills, and vomits.

Gastronomy is the science of pain. Professional cooks belong to a secret society whose ancient rituals derive from the principles of stoicism in the face of humiliation, injury, fatigue, and the threat of illness. The members of a tight, well-greased kitchen staff are a lot like a submarine crew. Confined for most of their waking hours in hot, airless spaces, and ruled by despotic leaders, they often acquire the characteristics of the poor saps who were press-ganged into the royal navies of Napoleonic times—superstition, a contempt for outsiders, and a loyalty to no flag but their own.

A good deal has changed since Orwell’s memoir of the months he spent as a dishwasher in “Down and Out in Paris and London.” Gas ranges and exhaust fans have gone a long way toward increasing the life span of the working culinarian. Nowadays, most aspiring cooks come into the business because they want to: they have chosen this life, studied for it. Today’s top chefs are like star athletes. They bounce from kitchen to kitchen—free agents in search of more money, more acclaim.

I’ve been a chef in New York for more than ten years, and, for the decade before that, a dishwasher, a prep drone, a line cook, and a sous-chef. I came into the business when cooks still smoked on the line and wore headbands. A few years ago, I wasn’t surprised to hear rumors of a study of the nation’s prison population which reportedly found that the leading civilian occupation among inmates before they were put behind bars was “cook.” As most of us in the restaurant business know, there is a powerful strain of criminality in the industry, ranging from the dope-dealing busboy with beeper and cell phone to the restaurant owner who has two sets of accounting books. In fact, it was the unsavory side of professsional cooking that attracted me to it in the first place. In the early seventies, I dropped out of college and transferred to the Culinary Institute of America. I wanted it all: the cuts and burns on hands and wrists, the ghoulish kitchen humor, the free food, the pilfered booze, the camaraderie that flourished within rigid order and nerve-shattering chaos. I would climb the chain of command from mal carne (meaning “bad meat,” or “new guy”) to chefdom—doing whatever it took until I ran my own kitchen and had my own crew of cutthroats, the culinary equivalent of “The Wild Bunch.”

A year ago, my latest, doomed mission—a high-profile restaurant in the Times Square area—went out of business. The meat, fish, and produce purveyors got the news that they were going to take it in the neck for yet another ill-conceived enterprise. When customers called for reservations, they were informed by a prerecorded announcement that our doors had closed. Fresh from that experience, I began thinking about becoming a traitor to my profession.

Say it’s a quiet Monday night, and you’ve just checked your coat in that swanky Art Deco update in the Flatiron district, and you’re looking to tuck into a thick slab of pepper-crusted yellowfin tuna or a twenty-ounce cut of certified Black Angus beef, well-done—what are you in for?

The fish specialty is reasonably priced, and the place got two stars in the Times. Why not go for it? If you like four-day-old fish, be my guest. Here’s how things usually work. The chef orders his seafood for the weekend on Thursday night. It arrives on Friday morning. He’s hoping to sell the bulk of it on Friday and Saturday nights, when he knows that the restaurant will be busy, and he’d like to run out of the last few orders by Sunday evening. Many fish purveyors don’t deliver on Saturday, so the chances are that the Monday-night tuna you want has been kicking around in the kitchen since Friday morning, under God knows what conditions. When a kitchen is in full swing, proper refrigeration is almost nonexistent, what with the many openings of the refrigerator door as the cooks rummage frantically during the rush, mingling your tuna with the chicken, the lamb, or the beef. Even if the chef has ordered just the right amount of tuna for the weekend, and has had to reorder it for a Monday delivery, the only safeguard against the seafood supplier’s off-loading junk is the presence of a vigilant chef who can make sure that the delivery is fresh from Sunday night’s market.

Generally speaking, the good stuff comes in on Tuesday: the seafood is fresh, the supply of prepared food is new, and the chef, presumably, is relaxed after his day off. (Most chefs don’t work on Monday.) Chefs prefer to cook for weekday customers rather than for weekenders, and they like to start the new week with their most creative dishes. In New York, locals dine during the week. Weekends are considered amateur nights—for tourists, rubes, and the well-done-ordering pretheatre hordes. The fish may be just as fresh on Friday, but it’s on Tuesday that you’ve got the good will of the kitchen on your side.

People who order their meat well-done perform a valuable service for those of us in the business who are cost-conscious: they pay for the privilege of eating our garbage. In many kitchens, there’s a time-honored practice called “save for well-done.” When one of the cooks finds a particularly unlovely piece of steak—tough, riddled with nerve and connective tissue, off the hip end of the loin, and maybe a little stinky from age—he’ll dangle it in the air and say, “Hey, Chef, whaddya want me to do with this?” Now, the chef has three options. He can tell the cook to throw the offending item into the trash, but that means a total loss, and in the restaurant business every item of cut, fabricated, or prepared food should earn at least three times the amount it originally cost if the chef is to make his correct food-cost percentage. Or he can decide to serve that steak to “the family”—that is, the floor staff—though that, economically, is the same as throwing it out. But no. What he’s going to do is repeat the mantra of cost-conscious chefs everywhere: “Save for well-done.” The way he figures it, the philistine who orders his food well-done is not likely to notice the difference between food and flotsam.

Then there are the People Who Brunch. The “B” word is dreaded by all dedicated cooks. We hate the smell and spatter of omelettes. We despise hollandaise, home fries, those pathetic fruit garnishes, and all the other cliché accompaniments designed to induce a credulous public into paying $12.95 for two eggs. Nothing demoralizes an aspiring Escoffier faster than requiring him to cook egg-white omelettes or eggs over easy with bacon. You can dress brunch up with all the focaccia, smoked salmon, and caviar in the world, but it’s still breakfast.

Even more despised than the Brunch People are the vegetarians. Serious cooks regard these members of the dining public—and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans—as enemies of everything that’s good and decent in the human spirit. To live life without veal or chicken stock, fish cheeks, sausages, cheese, or organ meats is treasonous.
“It’s been done, but I don’t think it’s been redone.

Like most other chefs I know, I’m amused when I hear people object to pork on nonreligious grounds. “Swine are filthy animals,” they say. These people have obviously never visited a poultry farm. Chicken—America’s favorite food—goes bad quickly; handled carelessly, it infects other foods with salmonella; and it bores the hell out of chefs. It occupies its ubiquitous place on menus as an option for customers who can’t decide what they want to eat. Most chefs believe that supermarket chickens in this country are slimy and tasteless compared with European varieties. Pork, on the other hand, is cool. Farmers stopped feeding garbage to pigs decades ago, and even if you eat pork rare you’re more likely to win the Lotto than to contract trichinosis. Pork tastes different, depending on what you do with it, but chicken always tastes like chicken.

Another much maligned food these days is butter. In the world of chefs, however, butter is in everything. Even non-French restaurants—the Northern Italian; the new American, the ones where the chef brags about how he’s “getting away from butter and cream”—throw butter around like crazy. In almost every restaurant worth patronizing, sauces are enriched with mellowing, emulsifying butter. Pastas are tightened with it. Meat and fish are seared with a mixture of butter and oil. Shallots and chicken are caramelized with butter. It’s the first and last thing in almost every pan: the final hit is called “monter au beurre.” In a good restaurant, what this all adds up to is that you could be putting away almost a stick of butter with every meal.

If you are one of those people who cringe at the thought of strangers fondling your food, you shouldn’t go out to eat. As the author and former chef Nicolas Freeling notes in his definitive book “The Kitchen,” the better the restaurant, the more your food has been prodded, poked, handled, and tasted. By the time a three-star crew has finished carving and arranging your saddle of monkfish with dried cherries and wild-herb-infused nage into a Parthenon or a Space Needle, it’s had dozens of sweaty fingers all over it. Gloves? You’ll find a box of surgical gloves—in my kitchen we call them “anal-research gloves”—over every station on the line, for the benefit of the health inspectors, but does anyone actually use them? Yes, a cook will slip a pair on every now and then, especially when he’s handling something with a lingering odor, like salmon. But during the hours of service gloves are clumsy and dangerous. When you’re using your hands constantly, latex will make you drop things, which is the last thing you want to do.

Finding a hair in your food will make anyone gag. But just about the only place you’ll see anyone in the kitchen wearing a hat or a hairnet is Blimpie. For most chefs, wearing anything on their head, especially one of those picturesque paper toques—they’re often referred to as “coffee filters”—is a nuisance: they dissolve when you sweat, bump into range hoods, burst into flame.

The fact is that most good kitchens are far less septic than your kitchen at home. I run a scrupulously clean, orderly restaurant kitchen, where food is rotated and handled and stored very conscientiously. But if the city’s Department of Health or the E.P.A. decided to enforce every aspect of its codes, most of us would be out on the street. Recently, there was a news report about the practice of recycling bread. By means of a hidden camera in a restaurant, the reporter was horrified to see returned bread being sent right back out to the floor. This, to me, wasn’t news: the reuse of bread has been an open secret—and a fairly standard practice—in the industry for years. It makes more sense to worry about what happens to the leftover table butter—many restaurants recycle it for hollandaise.

What do I like to eat after hours? Strange things. Oysters are my favorite, especially at three in the morning, in the company of my crew. Focaccia pizza with robiola cheese and white truffle oil is good, especially at Le Madri on a summer afternoon in the outdoor patio. Frozen vodka at Siberia Bar is also good, particularly if a cook from one of the big hotels shows up with beluga. At Indigo, on Tenth Street, I love the mushroom strudel and the daube of beef. At my own place, I love a spicy boudin noir that squirts blood in your mouth; the braised fennel the way my sous-chef makes it; scraps from duck confit; and fresh cockles steamed with greasy Portuguese sausage.

I love the sheer weirdness of the kitchen life: the dreamers, the crackpots, the refugees, and the sociopaths with whom I continue to work; the ever-present smells of roasting bones, searing fish, and simmering liquids; the noise and clatter, the hiss and spray, the flames, the smoke, and the steam. Admittedly, it’s a life that grinds you down. Most of us who live and operate in the culinary underworld are in some fundamental way dysfunctional. We’ve all chosen to turn our backs on the nine-to-five, on ever having a Friday or Saturday night off, on ever having a normal relationship with a non-cook.

Being a chef is a lot like being an air-traffic controller: you are constantly dealing with the threat of disaster. You’ve got to be Mom and Dad, drill sergeant, detective, psychiatrist, and priest to a crew of opportunistic, mercenary hooligans, whom you must protect from the nefarious and often foolish strategies of owners. Year after year, cooks contend with bouncing paychecks, irate purveyors, desperate owners looking for the masterstroke that will cure their restaurant’s ills: Live Cabaret! Free Shrimp! New Orleans Brunch!

In America, the professional kitchen is the last refuge of the misfit. It’s a place for people with bad pasts to find a new family. It’s a haven for foreigners—Ecuadorians, Mexicans, Chinese, Senegalese, Egyptians, Poles. In New York, the main linguistic spice is Spanish. “Hey, maricón! chupa mis huevos” means, roughly, “How are you, valued comrade? I hope all is well.” And you hear “Hey, baboso! Put some more brown jiz on the fire and check your meez before the sous comes back there and fucks you in the culo!,” which means “Please reduce some additional demi-glace, brother, and reëxamine your mise en place, because the sous-chef is concerned about your state of readiness.”

Since we work in close quarters, and so many blunt and sharp objects are at hand, you’d think that cooks would kill one another with regularity. I’ve seen guys duking it out in the waiter station over who gets a table for six. I’ve seen a chef clamp his teeth on a waiter’s nose. And I’ve seen plates thrown—I’ve even thrown a few myself—but I’ve never heard of one cook jamming a boning knife into another cook’s rib cage or braining him with a meat mallet. Line cooking, done well, is a dance—a highspeed, Balanchine collaboration.

I used to be a terror toward my floor staff, particularly in the final months of my last restaurant. But not anymore. Recently, my career has taken an eerily appropriate turn: these days, I’m the chef de cuisine of a much loved, old-school French brasserie/bistro where the customers eat their meat rare, vegetarians are scarce, and every part of the animal—hooves, snout, cheeks, skin, and organs—is avidly and appreciatively prepared and consumed. Cassoulet, pigs’ feet, tripe, and charcuterie sell like crazy. We thicken many sauces with foie gras and pork blood, and proudly hurl around spoonfuls of duck fat and butter, and thick hunks of country bacon. I made a traditional French pot-au-feu a few weeks ago, and some of my French colleagues—hardened veterans of the business all—came into my kitchen to watch the first order go out. As they gazed upon the intimidating heap of short ribs, oxtail, beef shoulder, cabbage, turnips, carrots, and potatoes, the expressions on their faces were those of religious supplicants. I have come home. 

Best of Both Worlds

I've been a supporter of 'home rule' and more powers for the Scottish Parliament for a long time unlike others I could mention such as the former Labour leader Gordon Brown, who jumped onto this particular bandwagon in the last few campaigning days of the independence referendum, as the Better Together side panicked about losing the popular vote.

So if you ask me, the Scottish Parliament should become responsible for raising all of the money it spends (including 100% of income tax) and as a willing partner within the UK, Scotland continue to be represented at Westminster in areas such as defence and foreign affairs where, arguably, decisions are better made on a UK-wide basis.   

But the Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem parties have made a rod for their own back by refusing to have a second 'more powers' question on the referendum ballot paper and if they had listened to what I said almost three years ago, they wouldn't be in the mess they find themselves in now.  

Best of Both Worlds (28 December 2011)

The Scotsman newspaper reports on an interesting survey today - which suggests that most Scots believe that the Holyrood Parliament should have more powers.

Now this seems like a 'no brainer' to me - why have a parliament that raises only half the money it spends - why not have a parliament that takes responsibility for raising all of the money it spends on behalf of the people of Scotland?

Because if we had that power in place now Scotland could make its own decisions about how best to combat the recession - and how to promote sustainable growth and economic recovery.

Whereas at the moment we have no choice but to agree that on many key issues - Westminster knows best - in crucial areas Holyrood is a 'pretendy parliament' because it has no influence over what Ministers in London decide.

The survey was carried out by Reform Scotland - which is campaigning for a 'third way' option in any future referendum on independence - not just a straight 'Yes' or 'No' but a 'Devo-Plus' question as well.

In other words a potential outcome that would be short of independence - but would mean the  majority of revenue powers being transferred to the Scottish Parliament. 

Under Reform Scotland's plan the Holyrood Parliament would no longer be handed down a budget from Westminster - but would become solely responsible for raising all the money it spends - and then handing over Scotland's share of UK wide spending priorities - in areas such as defence, for example.

Reform Scotland asked 811 people - a range of questions about independence and devolution.

Asked if they thought the Scottish Parliament should be responsible for raising the majority of the money it spends - 86% said yes.

According to the Scotsman report a majority answered yes across the political parties - though about 54% of the sample declared themselves to be SNP supporters.

66% of those questioned said they would vote 'Yes' for independence - if presented with a straight-forward yes or no question - a clear majority but much lower than the level of support for the Devo-Plus option.

So it will be interesting to see where this all leads in the months ahead.

But my money's on a three question referendum - because that's likely to appeal to people as giving Scotland the best of both worlds.

North Lanarkshire News

I've just sent off another FoI appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) because North Lanarkshire Council is refusing to release more details of an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) carried out back in 2006.

Now the EIA was conducted independently and the terms of reference were discussed with Unison apparently, but for some reason North Lanarkshire Council is reluctant to disclose any more information about the assessment which is very odd, if you ask me. 

But then a lot of things within North Lanarkshire Council are very strange including the fact that senior officials get paid big performance bonuses while the rest of the workforce face a policy of pay restraint.  

So let's see what the Scottish Information Commissioner has to say because I don't buy for a minute the Council's argument that releasing this information would be 'prejudicial to the good conduct of public affairs' - I think it's all about trying to save senior officials from potential embarrassment.

By the way isn't in interesting that as soon as I asked an FoI question about North Lanarkshire's performance pay figures for 2013/14 - that the figures for the current year were suddenly published on the Council's web site.  

Performance Pay (9 September 2014)

Regular readers will be aware that I have submitted an FoI Review Request to North Lanarkshire Council because of the Council's refusal to release information regarding an Equality Impact Assessment carried out over 8 years ago, back in 2006.
Now I find this quite staggering, I have to say, and I've got a lot of experience in dealing with FoI requests having fought and defeated South Lanarkshire Council all the way up to the UK Supreme Court.
Because the Equality Impact Assessment was about ensuring that the Council's new pay arrangements in North Lanarkshire (in 2006) were fair and non-discriminatory, so why is the Council reluctant for people to know what went on at the time?
We shall see, but my view is that North Lanarkshire is a terribly dysfunctional council these days because I've had to register a separate FoI appeal to SIC (the Scottish Information Commissioner) over the Council' refusal to release the minute of a Corporate Management Team meeting dating back to August 2005.
But when the Council's chief executive (Gavin Whitefield) acknowledged my original FoI request he said this had been passed on to the Executive Director of Corporate Services (June Murray) who failed to answer my FoI request, which meant I had to register a further FoI Review request. 
And the same June Murray is now responsible for dealing with my latest FoI Review request about the council's Equality Impact Assessment.
Here's a little 'pen portrait' of June Murray taken from North Lanarkshire's web site - unlike all the other council chief officials June's entry doesn't have a figure for performance pay although that's maybe because the latest amounts refer to 2012/13 and June only joined the council in June 2013.
But does that mean that the chief executive and all his senior colleagues keep their performance pay from 2012/13 - no matter how well or poorly they have performed since?
I think we should be told.

June Murray
June Murray, Executive Director, Corporate Services
Corporate Services is the title of a group of mainly support and professional services for the council, which has the ambition of delivering high quality and cost effective support for the council, its elected councillors and the services the council provides. 
While some important direct services to the public are part of the service grouping - such as licensing and the registration service - for the most part, Corporate Services provide a major range of support services without which the council could not operate effectively.
These range from committee and decision making arrangements to property maintenance, from health and safety to architectural services, from legal advice to staff recruitment, from employee development to property management, from support to elected councillors to quantity surveying.
Salary 2012/13: n/a (Appointed June, 2013)

Performance Pay (5 September 2014)

Gavin Whitefield
Gavin Whitefield CBE, Chief Executive
The Chief Executive within North Lanarkshire is the council's chief policy advisor. He is the main link between council officials and elected members. He is responsible for corporate governance and seeks to ensure the co-ordination of the organisation and all its functions. Of primary concern to the Chief Executive is the overall direction and performance of the council.
Salary 2012/13: £136,473 (plus performance-related pay of £11,039.20)

In its recent FoI response to me North Lanarkshire Council had the cheek to ask that I send any future requests to a particular email mail address as follows: committeea@northlan.gov.uk 

As if this explained or justified in some way the Council's screwing things up and failing to respond to my original FoI request which was dated 20 June 2014.

Now, as North Lanarkshire says a person is entitled to send an FoI request to anyone within the Council and I have always sent my requests direct to the chief executive, both in North Lanarkshire and elsewhere.

And anyway to make matters worse my emailed FoI request to North Lanarkshire's highest paid official was acknowledged by the man himself, Gavin Whitefield, or at least someone in the CEO's office acting on his behalf - on 23 June 2014.

-----Original Message-----
From: Whitefield Gavin <WhitefieldG@northlan.gcsx.gov.uk>
Sent: Mon, Jun 23, 2014 10:47 am
Subject: RE: FoI Request

Mr Irvine

I acknowledge receipt of your email regarding the above and would advise that I have forwarded it to the Executive Director of Corporate Services to process as a Freedom of Information enquiry.

Gavin Whitefield 
Chief Executive 

Tel: 01698 302452

So what in the world is the Council complaining about?

I wonder if this incident will have an adverse effect on the chief executive's annual performance bonus which was worth £11,039.02 in 2012/13 - according to the Council's web site. 

Council Bigwigs (14 March 2014)

Here's another post from the blog site archive about North Lanarkshire Council which speaks for itself if you ask me - the only thing I would add is that given recent events in the Employment Tribunal, the officials involved should now be asked to hand these ridiculous bonuses back.

Because their performance has been shoddy, to say the least, in terms of looking after the interests of the workforce, so given what we know now how can the Council's senior managers defend these bonus payments?

The whole sorry business is enough to make a banker blush.   

Pay Freeze Hypocrites ( 26 March 2012)

North Lanarkshire Council should hang its head in shame.

The Sunday Herald has exposed a secret pay deal involving big bonus payments to some of the council's most senior  officials - which must have been approved by the Labour Group that runs North Lanarkshire Council (NLC).

The truth has been dragged out of North Lanarkshire Council - and shows that 29 senior staff scooped approximately £184,000 in extra payments - chief executive Gavin Whitefield being the biggest winner with an extra £12,050 on top of his £136,848 salary.

Which must make other council workers hopping mad - because at a time when their pay is being frozen - the chief executive is awarded an 9% pay increase.

How's that for hypocrisy and double standards?

The Sunday Herald goes on to point out that five executive directors - who earn salaries of £113,250 a year - all received more than £9000 - as did the assistant chief executive John Ellerby.

And more than 20 heads of service - on salaries between £77,166 and £85,761 - each took home bonus payments of approximately £4000 to £6000.

Now the council calls these extra payments performance related pay - but they are really just bonuses by another name.

Apparently only a select group of people can access such payments - and I imagine the scheme works in only one direction in the sense that a senior official's core salary is guaranteed - so the chief executive can never earn less than £136,848 a year.

In which case how can it be a genuine performance based scheme - if people's pay can only go up but never down?

The salaries of all council chief executives is determined by collective bargaining - in a similar way to other groups of council employees - via a Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee (SJNC).

On the SJNC for chief executives and chief officials - where COSLA represents the employers' interests and Unison is the main trade union - salaries for chief executives are set as part of a Scotland-wide agreement - and the pay of Glasgow's chief executive always comes out on top.

Because Glasgow is by far the largest council - and by and large that is what any sensible person would expect.

But there is no provision in the Scotland-wide salary agreement - for locally determined performance pay - since that would be against the spirit of national bargaining and would be potentially discriminatory as well - especially if such payments are only available to elite groups of senior staff.

So the whole thing's a disgrace if you ask me.

In many ways it reminds me of the secret 'top-up' payments made by Glasgow City Council - to councillors who acted as Chairs of its arm's length external organisations (such as Cordia) -  or ALEOs as they became known. 

Regular readers will remember that these payments were stopped by the Scottish Government - but only after an independent enquiry criticised Glasgow's top-up payments - as unjustified, unnecessary and a complete waste of taxpayers' money.

So I would be interested to hear how a Labour-run council can justify this kind of behaviour.

Especially at a time when thousands of people in North Lanarkshire Council are still fighting for equal pay. 

How can the senior Labour councillors who signed off on this deal - look a low paid worker in the eye without feeling a huge sense of embarrassment and shame? 

And have you noticed how the tame Labour unions have nothing to say - just as they did over equal pay the unions seem to have lost their voices.

Roll on the local council elections on 3rd May, I say - there is a day of reckoning coming and the sooner it comes the better.

If I had a vote in North Lanarkshire in May - I'd vote for a party which promised to end the scandal of Labour's secret bonus payments - to the council's most senior and well paid staff.

Curiouser and Curiouser (5 September 2014)

Here's my FoI Review Request to North Lanarkshire Council regarding its refusal to release details of an Equality Impact Assessment (EIS) carried out back in 2006.

Now I don't know what the Council has to hide, but if you ask me the Council does not have a valid reason to withhold this information and, as such, is in danger of turning itself into a laughing stock.

Maybe someone from within the Council will leak this information because other people must know what went on, for example Unison must know who was involved on their side and the extent of the consultation with the trade unions.

September 2014

June Murray
Executive Director of Corporate Services
North Lanarkshire Council

By email
Dear June

FoI Review Request

I refer to the attached letter from North Lanarkshire Council's Freedom of Information Coordinator, Angelene Kirkpatrick, and would like to register the following Review Request in accordance with the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

  1. First of all, I have to say that it is completely absurd for the Council to suggest that the release of information regarding an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) carried out in 2006 is in any way prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs in 2014. 
  2. In my view the exact opposite is true and the release of this information would allow people (including the council workforce) to see for themselves how the terms of reference of the EIA were drafted and the extent of the consultation that allegedly took place with Unison.
  3. North Lanarkshire Council has not offered any evidence to demonstrate how the release of this information would impact adversely on the ongoing Employment Tribunal or any settlement discussions taking place outside of the Employment Tribunal, but as far as I am concerned the two things are entirely unconnected.
  4. Furthermore, I would say that instead of acting in an open and transparent manner the Council is in danger of being seen to be trying to shield senior officials from proper scrutiny, on a matter which affects large numbers of staff and involves the use of significant amounts of public money.
  5. So taking all the issues into account I hope you will reverse the decision to reject my initial FoI request because the Council is bound to lose this argument, in my view, if I have to appeal this matter to the Scottish Information Commissioner.

I look forward to your reply and would be grateful if you could respond to me by email at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Kind regards

Mark Irvine     

Curiouser and Curiouser (3)

I don't know who is calling the shots over at North Lanarkshire Council 's Freedom of Information (FoI) operation these days, but if you ask me whoever is in charge has taken leave of their senses.

Because the Council has just refused my FoI request asking for details of the Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) which the Council carried out back in 2006 on the ridiculous grounds that disclosing this information would "prejudice substantially the effective conduct of public affairs".

But I have to ask myself in all seriousness - 'How can it possibly prejudice anything in 2014 to be told who Iris Wylie was talking to in Unison back in 2006 and how can people knowing more about the EIA terms of reference possibly do the Council any harm?"

Unless the Council has something to hide of course which is why I'll be submitting a Review Request pretty damn quick - so watch this space.

Gavin Whitefield
Chief Executive
North Lanarkshire Council

Dear Mr Whitefield

FOISA Request 

I would like to make the following request under the Freedom of Information Scotland Act 2002.
Please provide me with a copy of the e-mail from the Council's Head of Personnel to Unison dated 7 March 2006 which sets out detailed terms of reference for the Equality Impact Assessment conducted by the Council over its plans to implement the 'single status' agreement with effect from 1 April 2006.

I look forward to your reply and would be grateful if you could respond to me by e-mail to: markirvine@compuserve.com
Kind regards
Mark Irvine

Curiouser and Curiouser 2 (18 August 2014)

I wrote recently about the Equality Impact Assessment Impact (EIA) carried out by North Lanarkshire back in 2006, the purpose of which must have been to ensure that the Council's job evaluation scheme (JES) was operating in a non-discriminatory way.

In other words not treating male jobs more favourably than their women colleagues.

Yet that is exactly what appears to have happened in North Lanarkshire, if recent developments at the Employment Tribunal are anything to go by because the Council has been forced to concede that many jobs have been wrongly graded and that the bonus payments of male workers were into account when these jobs were moved over on to new pay structures.

So I was amazed I have to say at the following comments from the EIA report which is marked "Private and Confidential" and is dated 14 March 2006"

"Implementation Strategy"

"While I have not been asked to review the entire implementation proposal I understand that pay equality in the new pay and grading structure is underpinned in the proposed NLC arrangements for:
  • assimilation to the new structure
  • incremental progression
  • improved detriment protection beyond the provisions of the SJC 'single status' agreement
  • addressing pay inequality arising from bonus payments to male manual workers"   
Now I'm almost lost for words at complacency involved because what was the point in asking someone independent of the Council to review the impact of the JES and the pay arrangements that flowed from the JES, if that person did not actually complete the job?

If you ask me that is and was a completely crazy state of affairs which is why I've submitted a further FoI request about the EIA's terms of reference which appear to have been set by Iris Wylie, the Council's head of human resources.   

Curiouser and Curiouser (4 August 2014)

I've had a response to my FoI request to North Lanarkshire Council regarding the Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) carried out by the Council back in 2006 which makes for very interesting reading, I have to say.

Now all the names of people have been removed from the published document, for reasons that make little sense to me, but as I know who all the key players are already this doesn't present any problems.

Here is what the first two paragraphs say: 


In my role as independent consultant to the COSLA Job Evaluation Consortium and the Scottish Joint Council for Local Government Services I have been asked to undertake an equality impact assessment of the grading and pay structure that North Lanarkshire Council has developed in order to implement the 'single status' agreement with effect from 1 April 2006.

Terms of Reference

With the assistance of the North Lanarkshire Council Job Evaluation Project Team I have undertaken a limited statistical analysis of the outcomes of the job evaluation exercise in accordance with the terms reference set out by the Head of Personnel in her e-mail to (NAME DELETED) of Unison dated 7th March 2006.

Now I will have more to say about the substance of the report in due course because I find its comments about the Council's Implementation Strategy really quite shocking, but first of all I think I'm correct in saying that the person who set the EIA's Terms of Reference back in 2006 (as Head of Personnel) is still in that position all these years later in 2014, albeit the post now has the title of Head of Human Resources. 

Which means it must be none other than my old acquaintance, Iris Wylie, who is the former partner of Unison's regional secretary in Scotland, Mike Kirby.

But what exactly were these Terms of Reference and who is the mysterious Unison person whose name has been deleted by the Council in answering my FoI request?

I think we should be told - so watch this space for further news.