Sunday, 18 January 2009

Not enough fat cats at the BBC

UPDATE: May 1st 2009

To follow on my story about the mouse infestation at the BBC World Service below:

Let me illustrate the danger of mice being allowed to infest buildings:

The Australian government has ordered an investigation into the case of a bedridden elderly man who was found covered in blood in a nursing home after his ears, neck and throat were chewed by mice. The eighty-nine year old man was attacked at a government-run home in the state of Queensland, where health officials have been struggling to cope with an infestation of mice. An Australian government minister, Justine Elliot, described the incident as extremely disturbing. She's told investigators to look at the procedures in the nursing home.

My spy at Bush House tells me that now five months later; the mice are still running riot throughout World Service news offices. They are effectively immune from attack, they run along skirting boards, make brazen dashes across the floor and stop in the middle to stand up and survey the carpet for stale sandwich crumbs. The threat of disciplinary action hangs over staff who might be 'tempted' into taking matters into their own hands. It has been made clear to staff that killing a mouse would contravene health and safety regulations however the promised 'dusting' by Rentokil either hasn't happened, or hasn't been effective.

A BBC employee of my acquaintance has told me that the mice infestation at Bush House, the offices of the BBC World Service, reported in the Guardian in October 2007 continues unabated. (The Guardian has also reported a mouse infestation at Television Centre.) At Bush House Rentokil was employed to lay traps but come January 2009 my informant was still seeing and hearing mice while working night shifts there. Every time they reported a mouse to Building Control they were told afterwards it had been dealt with which actually meant that it had been reported to Rentokil.

They wondered how often Rentokil was checking their high-tech humane traps and so a few weeks ago they turned a trap in a staff kitchen about 30 degrees off-kilter, as they are meant to be set parallel to the walls where the mice run, to see if anyone put it straight again. Two weeks later the trap hadn’t been moved. It hadn’t caught any mice either.

In frustration they bought a traditional spring mousetrap and set it with Green & Blacks chocolate in the kitchen. In 24 hours the trap had worked but before they could return to work, the dead mouse was discovered by someone else who complained to BBC management about the use of cruel traps.

Management launched an investigation and subsequently a memo was sent to all staff that due to HSE regulations, the staff were not to set their own traps and the memo said in BBC code that any further instances would be a disciplinary issue. It appears that Rentokil are now ‘dusting’ the infested areas. I presume that is a euphemism for poison. My informant promises to forward me the actual memo very soon for my research. I hope that dead mice don't get stuck somewhere and stink out the offices or a studio, as happened at the Westminster offices of the Daily Telegraph in 2007.

A contributing factor if not the root cause of this infestation could be the hygiene of the staff. Now that all catering and cleaning has been long been contracted-out of the BBC and there are no longer any of the lovely tea ladies and their trolleys nor a canteen; everyone brings in food to the offices and yet, as anyone who has shared a flat knows, nobody takes responsibility for keeping communal kitchens clean. Coffee cups are left unwashed in the sinks, food is left to rot in refrigerators. Very occasionally one of the more dedicated cleaners will empty out the fridge of rotting food and do the washing up but they point out to BBC management that this is not in their contract. To be fair, in my research into sustainability in the workplace I have heard many similar stories from schools, theatres and banks. It seems a given that any domestic chore at work like emptying the recycling bin is always thought someone else's job.

I suppose it's too late now to employ permanent catering and housekeeping staff with some maternal instincts to both mother and admonish the workers at Bush House but I'll bet the cost of that would compare favourably with Rentokil's contract.

Alternately, a long time ago I had one of those 'Picture Post' type books about working cats in London. The Post Office, the Tower of London and the
Cabinet Office all had official cats. It also appears that a German news channel has Lupin, its own studio cat who occasionally wanders into shot. I think a few quid of the license payers money on a cat would be far more effective than Jonathan Ross.

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