NATIONAL BULLYING HELPLINE

On the issue of the allegations of Gordon Brown’s alleged bullying, Sunny Hundal gets it, Dave Osler doesn’t. The reason that Dave Osler misunderstands is that he doesn’t factor in that Downing Street is not an ordinary workplace, as Nick Wright explains:

This stuff about Number Ten doesn’t add up. If there is one workplace in the country that should be stressed it is the Prime Minister’s office.

In a decade or so in working for the civil service trade unions I knew many people who worked this intimately to the machinery of government – under Tories and Labour. None of them got there by accident. All of them regarded it as a privilege (and a big help in career development). Stress goes with the territory, as does some very profane language, a measure of urgency and some very demanding workloads. Every one who goes to work at Number Ten knows this, and knows the the compensations.

Polybore realises that the “National Bullying Helpline” is little more than a scam; indeed the Army Rumour Service, a message board for service folk, has a surprisingly good summary of how the hapless Christine Pratt exploits vulnerable people:

Here’s how her operation works:

You are feeling bullied by your boss at work.
You ring the National Bullying “helpline”.
She asks for your details, including very importantly, the name of your employer, promising to keep all details confidential.
She sends a form to you, asking for you to sign and transfer your complaint to HR and Diversity Management (very competitive rates compared to solicitors who charge £150 per hour).
She doesn’t tell you that HR and Diversity Management is run by her husband, David Pratt.
She then contacts your employer without your knowledge and breaches confidentiality by telling them that you’ve lodged a bullying complaint with her via her “helpline”.
Employers go along with it and also hand over money in order to set up so-called “mediation”.

If you’re being bullied in work, Downing Street, or wherever, DON’T ring this “helpline”.

The Guru blog of the magazine for HR professionals, Personneltoday.com is hardly written by someone friendly to the left. Guru describes himself as: “right-leaning, most certainly politically incorrect and ever so slightly misogynistic. ” But Guru has the measure of Gordon Brown’s accuser, Christine Pratt.

Oh dear, it really has gone pear-shaped for the National Bullying Helpline and its founder Christine Pratt. After going on national TV to claim that Downing Street staff had contacted the helpline, Pratt has now found herself in the middle of what Guru colloquially calls a “sh*t storm”.

One of the charities patrons, rent-a-quote psychologist Cary Cooper, has quit because of Pratt’s breach of confidentiality. Another patron – Tory battleaxe Ann Widdecombe also criticised the decision to go public.

Some have now questioned her motives: the National Bullying Helpline website shows a supportive statement from David Cameron, as well as listing the fearsome Widdecombe as a patron. And her offices are next door to the branch of the Swindon Tories. Guru is sure this is all a coincidence.

Other patrons listed include TV presenter Sarah Cawood and pop star Mz Bratt. Yours Truly has no idea who they are, but how long before they quit in disgust at the way this has been handled?

Pratt is at pains to point out she is “not suggesting Gordon Brown is a bully” but simply “had to speak out” after Number 10 denied the allegations of bullying made in a new book. What’s really happened is she clearly saw the opportunity for some free PR by getting in touch with the BBC and claiming that staff who worked with the PM had “concerns”.

And now it’s backfired spectacularly.

Another charity, Bullying UK, said it was complaining about the helpline to the Charity Commission, having received emails from people who thought it was responsible, and called for her to resign.

Labour MP Anne Snelgrove, who helped Pratt launch the helpline, had said she severed links with her after receiving complaints about the way it referred calls to the consultancy run by her and her husband. And now David Cameron and Nick Clegg have called for an inquiry into the allegations.

What an absolute mess. The irony now is because of the huge media uproar, Pratt herself must be feeling pretty bullied. Maybe sometimes keeping your mouth shut is the better option.

And “Sterling Performance“, which descibes itself as a “Spotlight on UK business and management” points out that:

The National Bullying Helpline will suffer for going public on this issue and endangering the anonymity of the people within the government who have gone to it for advice. It’s difficult to see how it can continue to reassure callers that their enquiries will be kept confidential now. It has handled the affair with just the indelicacy that it should be trying to prevent in other organisations.

Of course workplace bullying is a real and disturbing problem, again Nick Wright makes the obvious point:

Workplace bullying is an important issue that trade unions have made the centre of much campaigning. Surprising then that the National Bullying Helpline, whilst bigging up endorsement from David Cameron and Ann Widdicombe on its homepage (see above) – seems to have little contact with the organisations most in touch with the issue.

Will Heaven at the Daily Telegraph understands that this has the potential to blow up in the faces of the Tories:

Here’s an interesting statistic, for you, which I’ll offer with a generous hat-tip to Ben Goldacre. According to the Charity Commission the National Bullying Helpline’s income in 2007 was just £1,818. Its expenditure was £852. The same figures for 2008? We don’t know – because the charity’s accounts are “207 days overdue”.

This is plainly not a serious organisation, as its website serves to confirm: we are informed that, in 2007, £1000 was raised by CLM Solicitors and Monahans, and £200 by BNY Mellon Asset Services. So that leaves about 600 pounds from all other donations. The “privicy” policy, however, is very clear: “We do not share your details with anyone.”

And that leaves just two more points of interest. Firstly, the politics of the woman running the charity, Christine Pratt. Here the website lists two statements on its homepage – one from David Cameron, the other from Ann Widdecombe MP, who is apparently its Patron. Nick Robinson adds that “there are private nudges and winks that Christine Pratt… is a Conservative supporter.”

Secondly, there is the fact that the helpline – as Pratt admits – offers to refer callers to a human resources consultancy which she runs with her husband, an arrangement which she insists is kosher, having been organised “under an agreement that has been approved by the Law Society”. But it certainly looks dodgy given the publicity this story has garnered.

It remains to be seen how “bullygate” will reflect on the Conservatives. But, as one senior Tory told me this morning, “I hope there are no Conservative fingerprints on this, because it won’t look good for us if there are.”

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