The Whitby RNLI story is not about mugs, or even the RNLI

MC in the comments alerted me to this story, which has now blown up on social media:

A lifeboatman who served with the RNLI for 15 years was sacked alongside his junior colleague for having mugs with naked women on them in the office.

Whitby crewman Ben Laws and his workmate Joe Winspear were allegedly sacked over the phone on Tuesday.

The pair are reported to have swapped the ‘jokey’ tea mugs for Secret Santa presents.

One featured Mr Winspear’s head superimposed on a naked woman’s body.

When a senior female member of staff found them at the headquarters in North Yorkshire, their jobs were brought into question.

The pair were initially told to destroy the mugs and that they would face no further action.

But the men, who are not paid for their work with the RLNI, then had to go through a disciplinary hearing that looked through their private Whatsapp messages.

According to the newspaper they were told they could no longer work at Whitby’s RNLI branch because the mugs could have been found by schoolchildren, which posed a ‘safeguarding risk’.

Okay, that’s the Daily Mail’s version. Here’s what the RNLI has to say:

We are restricted in what we can say, however we can confirm the investigation focussed on the production of inappropriate material of a sexual nature and associated social media activity directed at an RNLI staff member. We are aware of speculation about the issue on social media but we want to stress that this was not a trivial matter.

I doubt this is only about the mugs, and I suspect there was a little more to it than that. However, I expect whatever took place was done with the full consent and involvement of everyone concerned – men and women – and the complaint came from someone who caught wind of it in passing. I would bet a year’s salary that the “senior female member of staff” was a visitor to the office, a corporate functionary who had about as much to do with lifeboating as I do ballet dancing. As to whether it was a trivial matter, I suspect to any normal person it was, but to a modern corporate manager it was up there with the eruption of Krakatoa. You can glean the mindset by what follows:

The lifeboat station should be an environment where people can expect to be treated with dignity and respect. We cannot allow bullying, harassment or discrimination in what should be a safe and inclusive environment and there will be serious consequences for anybody who demonstrates this behaviour within the RNLI.

By challenging this behaviour, we are standing up for the thousands of volunteers who are committed to doing the right thing as they operate our 238 lifeboat stations, saving lives at sea around the clock, 365 days of the year. Our dedicated volunteers represent the values and principles of our organisation and we will not allow any behaviour that brings the work of the RNLI and our people into disrepute.

This is meaningless, empty guff which could have been pulled from the website of any one of a thousand corporations with a household name. I am sure the RNLI once embodied admirable values, but these have been replaced with a dreary morality code worthy of an organised religion, only imposed on people who worship at an entirely different altar. As I said recently:

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that being an employee is no longer about fulfilling what’s in your job description, but adhering to a vague set of moral values which are policed inconsistently by the sort of people who’d dob you in to the council for putting out the wrong bin.

The issue here isn’t the mugs or “the production of inappropriate material” any more than heretics being burned at the stake was a problem in itself; both are mere outcomes of a much larger problem. The CEO of the RNLI is one Paul Bossier. Here’s his CV:

So he’s one of those intelligent types who carved out a career in the highly bureaucratic Royal Navy, an organisation in which career success is driven by backstabbing and arse-licking in equal measure (with apologies to Jason Lynch and Surreptitious Evil). He also went to business school, where no doubt he learned all about power-point presentations, opaque decision-making, dubious ethics, top-down heavy-handedness, and poorly thought-out corporate procedures. The traditional values of the RNLI disappeared the moment somebody on the board of trustees thought this is the type of man they wanted to head their organisation. I suspect he wooed them with all sorts of guff about “efficiency” and “modernisation” and told them how the RNLI brand could be used to bring in millions more in revenues. I bet they mentioned actual lifeboats and the sea about once: as organisations, the Royal Navy is about as similar to the RNLI as Patel’s Taxis are to the McClaren Formula One team.

This latest incident in Whitby isn’t the first controversy the RNLI has had under Bossier’s watch. Here’s a story from last November:

THE States and the Island’s Harbourmaster knew the RNLI was going to take St Helier’s all-weather lifeboat back to the UK, it has emerged.

In an open letter published online, the UK chief executive of the charity, Paul Boissier, said the decision was not taken lightly and local authorities were briefed to ensure contingency plans were in place.

He also described the RNLI’s decision to shut down the St Helier station last Friday as ‘justified and the right thing to do’.

The shutdown followed a breakdown in the relationship between volunteers and the charity which finally boiled over after months of simmering in the background.

Days before, the crew had signalled their intention to set up an independent lifeboat service separate from the RNLI.

Mr Bossier, a former Royal Navy serviceman, said that because of the broken relationship with the volunteer crew the RNLI could ‘no longer rely on their continued commitment’ and the only choice was to close the station.

Speaks volumes, doesn’t it? How many years were these lifeboatmen risking their lives at sea before this Cambridge-educated ex-Royal Navy business school graduate turned up and started imposing cack-handed, top-down corporate policies on them from afar? And note that not only is Bossier taking the all-weather boat back to the British mainland, but:

Speaking about almost £7 million of donations held in a bank account for use in lifesaving in Jersey, Mr Boissier said: ‘There is a restricted fund balance of nearly £7m for Jersey.

Nice, eh? The good people of Britain cough up the money for an all-weather lifeboat and £7m surplus cash so some brave Jerseymen can do what they can to save lives, and it’s now being purloined by a bloke on £162k per year as if they were any other corporate assets. I don’t know how many other incidents there are like this, but the public fallout over the incident in Whitby is having people cancelling their donations in droves. Good.

As an organisation grows and gets more wealthy, parasites in the form of professional “managers” come in and use the excess cash to feather their own nests and set about building their own little empires. In effect, the organisation splits in two. You have a ruling class, sitting in plush air conditioned offices pushing progressive agendas and advancing their careers; and you have everyone else, including those tasked with fulfilling the core function of the organisation. In the modern era, the disconnect between the two is so large they might as well be entirely separate entities on every measure except the logo and the last part of everyone’s email address (there are sharp parallels here with the political setup in western societies, too). Bossier could have just as easily gone to manage any other bloated, overfunded organisation as the RNLI: to these types, and those that cling to their coat-tails, the actual outfit they join doesn’t matter one jot. What matters is that it provides a vehicle for personal enrichment and career advancement. If Bossier quit tomorrow and became head of Birmingham City Council, to be replaced by the guy who sent Carillion into bankrupcy, would anyone be surprised? Would anyone notice? These people are as interchangeable as they are dangerous.

The answer to this problem is hinted at in this passage from an excerpt above:

Days before, the crew had signalled their intention to set up an independent lifeboat service separate from the RNLI.

If you want to rescue people at sea then you must join an outfit which rescues people at sea, not one that roams the land identifying problematic mugs. As I’ve argued before on this blog, I believe the future lies in small, independent entities made up of a handful of people doing the actual work that needs doing, feeding where they can off the bloated carcasses of organisations headed by people like Bossier. The more people who realise this, and start to avoid interacting with large organisations for any other reason than fleecing them, the better.

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27 thoughts on “The Whitby RNLI story is not about mugs, or even the RNLI

  1. The RNLI used to be one of the few exceptions to the basic rule that if you’ve heard of a national charity it’s almost certainly not worth supporting.

    Alas no longer.

  2. Alas no longer.

    Indeed, it’s tragic and will literally costs lives.

  3. I was thinking just the other day about the overpaid BBC ‘talent’ such as John Humphrys and his £400k (ish). What would the market pay these people? What would they do to earn a living when they were replaced with better, cheaper, (younger) people?
    They would work for charities is what. They would spread the idiocracy into the nation’s bloodstream just as Yentob did at Kids Company. And other non media folk would be there to greet them such as this RNLI stew*.
    Oh joy.
    *(As in one stew short of a full pidity).

  4. I was thinking just the other day about the overpaid BBC ‘talent’ such as John Humphrys and his £400k (ish). What would the market pay these people?

    The market never pays these people; they’re always leaching off the taxpayer in one way or another.

  5. The RNLI was the last major charity to fall to the progressives, the only surprise was how long it took.

    “The shutdown followed a breakdown in the relationship between volunteers and the charity which finally boiled over after months of simmering in the background.”

    The people who did all the work for free, clashing with those who did no work other than looting the coffers, who would have thought it!

  6. I’ve spent years, in my business life, arguing to avoid doing business with organisations where you don’t deal with a ‘wet pen’ – someone who can sign-off on a contract and doesn’t need to get approval from layers of management, different departments and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all.

    In effect, this means that, wherever possible, one should only deal with organisations, or autonomous subsidiaries, of 100 people or fewer.

  7. I was thinking just the other day about the overpaid BBC ‘talent’ such as John Humphrys and his £400k (ish). What would the market pay these people?

    They’d pay them the same, unfortunately. The corporate world is chock-full of overpaid paper-pushers adding absolutely no value who’ve wormed their way into cushy, high-tier positions.

  8. Paul Bossier? It’s enough to make one believe in nominative determinism.

  9. As an organisation grows and gets more wealthy, parasites in the form of professional “managers” come in and use the excess cash to feather their own nests and set about building their own little empires.

    I give you, Jerry Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

    In any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people:

    First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.
    Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

    The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

  10. I’m reminded of what happened to the volunteer fire department in the town of Spaniard’s Bay, Newfoundland (population 2,800).

    A woman joined the fire department, studied hard and gained a Level II qualification (which none of the more experienced firemen had), then proceeded to complain that she had been passed over for promotion. Other stuff happened, morale collapsed, and twenty firemen quit.

    None of this involved any paper-pushers in urban air-conditioned offices. The highest authority it ever reached was the town council. Nevertheless, this wouldn’t have happened without her belief in credentialism, and her expectation that the entire fire department should change to meet her needs, rather than vice versa.

  11. “The lifeboat station should be an environment where people can expect to be treated with dignity and respect.”

    Funny, I thought a lifeboat station was an environment where people were willing, at a moment’s notice, to risk their lives to save people in mortal danger. That alone earns the greatest respect.

    I used to say the lifeboats were the only charity I’d support. But maybe the total should go down by one.

  12. I give you, Jerry Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

    Yeah, I’m sure all of this has been observed many times before; I’m just working it out from first principles!

  13. None of this involved any paper-pushers in urban air-conditioned offices.

    That’s an interesting story, not least because of the sentence above. Thanks, Andrew.

  14. Funny, I thought a lifeboat station was an environment where people were willing, at a moment’s notice, to risk their lives to save people in mortal danger. That alone earns the greatest respect.

    Indeed: respect is earned through one’s actions, not imposed top-down by strangers. When I as a kid we were taught stuff like this.

  15. As an organisation grows and gets more wealthy, parasites in the form of professional “managers” come in and use the excess cash to feather their own nests and set about building their own little empires.

    This X 1000.

    I realized a long time ago that the purpose of management is to justify its own existence, without regard to the core purpose of the organization. That justification is accomplished by focusing on coffee mugs or creating ever new, yet meaningless forms which go into files and form no basis in actual decision making.

    I could give hundreds of examples from my professional life, but one will suffice. I recall being on a conference call with representatives of four, count ’em, four levels of management. These calls occurred every 90 days, regardless of whether circumstances in the underlying matter had changed and resulted in me giving the same report time after time. I didn’t care. I was getting paid by the hour to participate. There finally came a time when I needed an actual decision from someone in authority. After–I shit you not–90 minutes of going around in circles, I asked, “Can anyone on this call make a decision? Do any of you have the authority?”

    The response? (Remember these are the smart people with MBAs from prestigious universities.)

    “We’ll get back to you.”

    It’s a wonder anything gets done.

  16. His surname is the clue. Although he probably pronounces it in some Hyacinth Bucket fashion.
    Are little kiddie-wrinkles allowed to roam about in the staff and working areas of a work place.
    They should have explained that the person pictured, who from pictures I have seen could be a young male and was wearing knickers, was trans – cross – fluid – whatever gendered.

  17. Tom beat me to it with Pournelles Iron law of Bureaucracy. He must be as cynical as me … >};o)

    I looked at the RNLI website when this incident came to my attention. It declares that 95% of the people in the organisation are unpaid volunteers, putting their life on the line to fulfil the purpose of the organisation. So the 5% of people like the professionally offended womyn are the tail wagging the dog.

    I don’t have children or a wife and I made out my will to benefit the RNLI because it USED to be one of the very few charities that resolutely refused to take money from the Government. I’m seeing the solicitor on Monday to change the will. Who will get the money when I shuffle off this mortal coil will need careful thought. Perhaps the St Helier lifeboat if it is set up independently from the RNLI. My wife and I spent our honeymoon on Jersey in St Helier so that’s justification enough.

    A pox on all their houses.

  18. So he’s a graduate from the same business school that I am. (Yes I have an MBA and am a demon with PowerPoint). So I look him up on the internal directory which has the details of everyone who ever went their UNLESS you restrict your contact details but even then it lists your name.

    I can’t find Paul Bossier at all.

    In defence of MBAs some of my ex classmates now run large (and successful!) companies and some are unemployed. The muppet Count was very small but even back then the purely self interested arses were visible, and more importantly avoided by almost everyone. If you didn’t pull your weight in assignments you were dropped. Alas some of those people went on to be “successful” if climbing corporate ladders is such a thing.

  19. I’d like to thank all contributors to this blog for bringing this ludicrous situation to my attention.
    It seems that Bossier and his cronies have, by their actions in making mountains out of a molehill, brought the once revered RNLI into disrepute.
    Those in the RNLI who are responsible for the conduct of Bossier and his cronies should reflect on this lunacy and Bossier should resign immediately.

  20. FWIW : my email to the RNLI

    de “john.tynan”
    ajouter à mes contacts
    créer une alerte SMS
    à supportercare@rnli.org.uk
    date 31/05/18 15:46
    objet Your Rebuttal of the Daily Mail article.

    de “john.tynan”

    à supportercare@rnli.org.uk
    date 31/05/18 15:46
    objet RNLI Rebuttal of the Daily Mail article.
    voir l’en-tête complet

    I make reference to this point :

    We (RNLI) say: Our assets, on the whole, are our 238 lifeboat stations, many of them in unique and challenging coastal locations; our lifeboats, which can cost more than £2M; launching equipment and our regional and HQ buildings and account for around 62% of our £712 million assets . It costs £180m a year to run the RNLI and we are advised by the Charity Commission that, to be a responsible charity, we have to have enough in the bank to ensure that if all fundraising stopped today we could keep running our crucial service for between 6-12 months. We provide an essential emergency service so it is imperative that we have enough reserves to continue our rescue service whatever happens. We also have to ensure we have enough surplus funds for planned capital expenditure over the next few years – the ongoing upgrade of our aging fleet and the provision of new lifeboat stations in some locations.

    In 2016, our assets reduced by around £43M and investments reduced by around £3M, so the idea that it increases each year is simply not true.

    This statement is false. Your assets INCREASED by £16.1 million in the year 2016.

    I hope you will issue a correction. If not, I shall bring it to the DM’s attention.

    Yours very truly,

    PS. In fact the RNLI is referring to NET assets (assets less liabilities).

    Although assets increased, the RNLI had to adjust its unfunded pension liability by a charge against results. The amount of this charge was £67m or 4 times the amount spent on lifeboats in the year – and more than double the total annual operating costs of the SNSM, the French lifeboat service.

    Was this an innocent error? One might have thought that highly paid management would have the competence to ensure that a rebuttal issued to a major national newspaper was factually correct.

    Or was the pension charge just too “inconvenient”?

  21. GOOD PIECE – HERE’S MY FINAL CONTACT WITH THE RNLI

    Dear Ms. Preston,

    Thank-you for the message outlining what has transpired.

    Sounds very much like a storm in a tea-cup to me. Something that should never have left Whitby, and now, the story is all around the world.

    I worked in maritime safety for 10yrs. The sea can be very hostile, and it takes a special kind of person to go out into a stormy sea at night. Such people are not shrinking violets, they will use humour – sometimes crudely – as a defence mechanism and do not possess the kind of sensibilities it seems that this new, far more corporate RNLI seems to want.

    Put simply, man cannot tame the sea, and the management of the RNLI should think carefully before trying to change the character of men who go out into it. Coxing and crewing boats in heavy seas is an attitude as much as a skill; so be careful, or you will end up with excellent hardware, but software that cannot get that hardware to function properly.

    To my mind, there are only 3 questions your organization needs to answer;

    1. Are these men competent to go out to sea and save lives?

    2. Has anybody been hurt by their actions? [If you state that their ‘feelings’ have been hurt, then maybe they are not tough enough to be lifeboat crew. Don’t know the full circumstances, but is it possible that the Whitby crew might have suspected that the crew member you say was ‘targeted’ may not have been up to the job? It’s fair for them to have a crew-mate that they feel they can rely on.]

    3. Have the men agree to tone down their boisterous conduct? You cannot have yobbish wrecklessness.

    For decades, my family and I have supported the RNLI for many decades…….through a combination of ad hoc donations, membership, merchandise and legacies.

    Most of them are gone now, but I am damn sure that – like me today – they expected their monies to go towards operational needs, and not a huge layer of largely superfluous management (and their pensions), marketing, public relations and ridiculous jobs such as ‘safeguarding’ – at an even more ridiculous £40k per annum.

    Someone paid that much is bound to attempt to justify their position, and as we see, the result is chaos and loss of reputation. Can you honestly say that value for money has been obtained through this mission creep?

    The RNLI is Britain’s coastal ‘safeguard’, that is what matters to me, not whether my 11yr daughter catches a glimpse of a centre-fold pin-up at a lifeboat station………it is whether RNLI crews can save lives.

    Do not lose sight of the fact that for 200yrs, lifeboat crews have been saving lives WITHOUT that thick layer of management that you and your kind represent. So, on the whole, I firmly believe that your priorities are way out of kilter.

    It seems to me that the RNLI management has declared war on the operational crew members who do not want to cooperate with the new style of corporate, politically correct, buzz-word BS management that now exists. In kicking back against it, these men have actually underlined their value to the organization……and in your arrogant foolishness, you are content to toss them – and their vast experience – away. Not clever.

    I also think that the RNLI has succumbed to the socio-political mores of the third sector. It has become a big corporate charity, more concerned with image and donations than with its grassroots people. It now seems to be an organization where cushy managerial jobs (and perhaps Common Purpose training), are attempting to procure culture change and virtue signalling at the expense of getting the job done. In short, the RNLI has succumbed to diktats from government to use the charity sector as a job creation scheme – largely for shrill, bossy women.

    It is not what I want my money to go towards.

    So, be warned, if these men are not reinstated, them the RNLI will lose my support, including a five figure legacy.

    Sorry to be blunt, but it is clear that the RNLI is losing its way – in fact, it has been totally corrupted.

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