The following is an extract from Extreme Measures, a short story by A. P. Grozdanovic, that is available on Amazon Kindle…
… It wasn’t a secret why Glenn had been called into head office to meet with George Forester, the Principal Officer. Like the rest of the workforce, he knew his fate. He had attended the council meeting in the public hall recently. He had heard the councillors discussing various options, essentially privatisation of the services. They all spoke fluently and with feeling, about the services they were overseeing, typical of the politicians they were.
Glenn couldn’t help feeling that they didn’t give a damn about the staff they employed or the people they supplied a service to. With every weasel-like statement about how hard it had been to sign off on the current proposals, Glenn was inclined to punch each speaker. One by one they clicked the little button at the base of their personal microphone, their light came on, and an amplified rebuttal of claims of council mismanagement and central governments unfair demands ensued. He found it nauseous. Glenn had had his fill well before the meetings conclusion. Holding his tongue ’til the end of the meeting would have stretched his sanity to breaking point. He left early. A stint in the pub with the self-serving union figures didn’t appeal either. For all their good intentions, they got absolutely zip done.
Anna Parkin returned with two plastic cups of water, cold from the fountain outside. One, she placed on the desk, the second she gave to Glenn. Before leaving she said: ‘MrForester will be along presently.’
Glenn took a sip. The sanitised office did nothing to ease his anxious disposition. Knowing what was coming wasn’t always for the best. He could hardly bear to be in the room. He found the place stifling.
The door opened behind him. The athletic purposeful figure of George Forester, the Principal Officer, strode past him without a word. He was tall, his darkhair groomed to an inch of its life and teeth whiter than any toothpaste company could possibly promise. He sat behind the desk, moved the pad to one side and laid a beige, nondescript file on the desk in its place.
‘Glenn. how are you?’ he enquired, exhibiting his usual insincere smile.
Going through the motions had started. They both knew why they were here.
‘Fine, thanks.’ He wasn’t.
‘Let me cut to the chase, Glenn.’ He paused for a second, as if gathering his thoughts. ‘Well, as you know, the outsourcing of the service has been brought forward. The time-frame has been cut dramatically and we have to act. Pressure from those all-knowing people in the clouds, as it were, has forced our hand. Budgets have been constrained. In fact, they’ve been strangled.’
Glenn had the feeling this was a speech recited before a mirror. Forester’s facial expression was, to put it mildly, actor-ly with those sparkling white teeth, as he delivered his script.
‘In the present climate, which is positively Baltic, there’s no room for manoeuvre.’ He took a sip from the cup that had been left for him. ‘The old maxim, that we’re all numbers, has never been more true. In this modern financial nightmare of a job we’re in, we’re all expendable.’
Glenn couldn’t help but cut in, ‘Except I’m not in a nightmare sort of job, financial or otherwise, am I? I work with people, you know, human beings not figures on a piece of paper, and I quite like it.’
‘Yes, you do. That’s what we’re all here for: people, isn’t it?’ Of course, the question was rhetorical. He continued, unabated by Glenn’s interruption. ‘And on that note, I’d like to place on record our gratitude for the work you’ve done over the years. Everyone in the office feels that your dedication has been nothing but first rate. Your work with this particular client group has been an example to us all.’
Glenn took a drink of his water. He wanted to drift off, perhaps into the planetary system this guy resided. Wherever it was, it wasn’t in Glenn’s universe.
‘Before I go over the particulars of the package that’s on offer, Glenn, I’d like to have a short discussion with you. Get to know why we’re at this point.’
‘Go ahead.’ They were still paying. He had no desire to cut the supply of finance prematurely.
Forester opened the folder in front of him, taking a moment to reacquaint himself with its contents.
‘You’ve indicated to your manager that the restructure of the new organisation isn’t for you. Why is that?’
This was all a tick-box exercise. It was no surprise to Glenn. Forester hated being here just as much as he did. Protocol dictated they sit opposite each other today and have a cosy chat, both knowing the inevitable. But human resource manuals wanted questions answered, and for that questions must be asked.
‘There are a few reasons that I could flag up straight away.’
‘And they would be?’ enquired Forester.
‘Roster allocation for one. The new system doesn’t help either the service user or staff. The computer programme you’ve used to concoct this new routine, I presume must tick the required boxes, but it doesn’t for one minute cater for the people we are offering a service to.’
‘An example would be?’ Forester barely looked up.
‘What about when a service user wants to go and do something not identified on the roster? Like six months earlier,’ he added flippantly. Forester didn’t take the bait. ‘Something simple. It’s summer and the weather is nice. He’d like to visit the seaside. There are lots of positives in taking someone to the seaside, you know, besides simple enjoyment. Community presence or promoting positive behaviour. They’re just a couple of the benefits. In the new system there is just no allocation of time. Previously, this would have been paramount. There was flexibility in the system. Not any more. With the cuts staff have been let go and not replaced. How are we supposed to do those sorts of activities on the skeleton level of staff that’s left?’
‘But the system has built-in mechanisms for assessed needs. We have been very careful about this.’
‘You need to go back to the people who write these programmes and allocate the time then, because it just doesn’t work.’
Forester was jotting notes down. This may have been a mere exercise in reality, Glenn knew that, but would Forester check these points out later? He had no idea whether the issues he raised would lead to change.
‘We’re just not serving the people we’re meant to be in the right way.’
Glenn waited for a response. It didn’t come immediately. Forester appeared to be in deep thought. Had he struck a chord? Or was he just swimming against a very strong tide.
‘But we found that under the old system staff were controlling the roster. Essentially, re-writing it to suit themselves not the service. Put simply, it was costing the tax payer a fortune!’
‘You can believe that if you want, but if you think for one minute I, or anyone else, wanted to work those unsociable shifts, you’re wrong.’
‘I’d like to go through that with you some time, if I may.’
‘Show me any roster and I’ll explain the reasons for staff to be present, or not as the case may be. I think if you put a roster alongside a service user activity sheet, you’ll see what was being done with the time available.’
Forester took another sip of water and sneaked a glance at his watch. It appeared he was tiring of the exercise already. ‘Okay. So what else is behind your decision?’
‘How about privatisation, or outsourcing, as you like to refer to it?’
Forester shuffled in his chair.
‘What about it?’
‘It’s not right. It’s going to reduce the service to the service user further and cut staff pay. How can that be good?’
Forester certainly wasn’t comfortable, Glenn could see that but he wasn’t concerned. Sometimes he enjoyed being unpopular.
‘Look, there’s not a lot we can do about it. Savings have to be found. Services can’t be as they were. Everyone has to understand that in the present economic climate things have to change. Budgets can’t be kept at pre-crash levels. The service just wouldn’t be sustainable. We’ve been surfing a financial wave destined to crash on the shore for years.’
‘And you’re happy with that, are you?’
‘It’s not about me being happy or not. It’s about securing the service’s future in whatever form that takes.’
Glenn’s mouth was drying, he took a sip of water. ‘And while all this is going on we’ve all just got to grin and bear it?’
Forester snapped the file shut. He was losing control of the meeting and obviously wasn’t getting anywhere.
‘No one is saying this is easy. No one wants to do this. But, understand,’ he warned, ‘we are faced with stark choices, difficult decisions just have to be made.’
‘Can’t you stand up and refuse?’
‘Refuse to do what? My job? That’s just not realistic, Glenn. Look, I think we should close the meeting; we’re getting nowhere.’ Forester appeared rattled.
He stood, moved around the table and attempted to shake Glenn’s hand. Glenn stood but declined the offer.
From his file, Forester picked out a sheet of paper. ‘You know what’s on offer from Fresh Solutions in Care, the new company. All you have to do is come in and sign this form and you’re still doing the job you love.’
‘Work for a private company? That’s not going to happen,’ he said with some certainty.
‘Well then…Good luck with whatever you choose to do next.’
Glenn turned without a word and left the room. He exited the building without speaking to anyone. He could feel the redness in his face. He was reaching boiling point. If anyone he passed had said anything to him he would surely have bitten their head clean off.
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