Builders send in the fairies in payout dispute

WHEN contractors and clients fall out over a payment, the usual path of dispute leads to stiff warning letters, aggrieved feelings and expensive lawyers' bills. But not in the case of Birse Construction.

After wrangling over payment for a road for five years, its answer was simple: send a gift box of rock crystals and toadstools, get its workers to dress up as Bugs Bunny and Mr Blobby, and send missives containing the words of Nelson Mandela.

So bizarre is the behaviour of Birse, which has put many of its workers into therapy and last year apologised for its aggressive culture, that the victim of its recent attentions has complained to the Government and accused the contractor of harassment.

After five years of dispute over a payment of pounds 11.5m for the road, Birse Construction resorted to aseries of unorthodox methods in an effort to kick-start negotiations with its client, Caerphilly council.

Through the post, addressed to council chief executive Malgwyn Davies, came a gift box containing a rock with a fairy, candle and toadstool. Mr Davies then received a fax from Birse containing quotations from a speech made by Nelson Mandela on the day of his release from prison. The gift box, said Birse, would help Mr Davies meditate in order to keep calm. The words of Mandela would help free him from being institutionalised.

Birse also sent a video explaining how it felt to every Caerphilly councillor and dispatched six employees to a council meeting dressed as cartoon characters, including Bugs Bunny and Mr Blobby.

Last year, in something of a Damascene conversion, Birse announced a change in management technique and chairman Peter Birse acknowledged how beastly the firm had been.

Birse's group finance director, Martin Budden, said he felt the introduction of "The Birse Way", a three-year makeover involving a "boutique consultancy" and therapy sessions for the company's 1,200 employees, had encouraged the approach to the dispute with Caerphilly council.

"The whole process at Birse has been about looking to remove barriers of communication between staff and between management and subordinates," he said.

"This has freed up individuals and allowed them to say what they think without causing upset. This sort of atmosphere fosters creative thinking. The type of thing we're doing now comes from that."

Unfortunately, Caerphilly council has pointedly failed to see the joke and has complained to the Welsh Office, the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, and the Local Government Association that Birse's actions amount to harassment.

Mr Davies said he had been bombarded with fax messages "he does not understand the relevance of". He declined to comment further, saying: "They might think they are getting to me and it might encourage them to do more of it."

The disputes centres on the pounds 30m Rhymney Valley relief road which opened in 1993. The council which contracted Birse, Mid-Glamorgan, has been replaced by a series of unitary authorities. The question of how much is owed by the new Caerphilly council has been further complicated by the apparent withdrawal of a pounds 4m European Union grant for the project.

"We were getting nowhere with the formal channels. Every initiative we tried for talks was knocked back," said Mr Budden. "This road was built five years ago and we felt the council was playing for time."

The faxes quoting Mandela, Mr Budden explained, were intended to give Mr Davies a sense of perspective. "It was meant to help him detach himself from his institutionalised position."

The idea for the fairy gift box came from Birse culture manager Steve French, who made the device himself and admits to finding the fairy a useful meditation tool.

"We thought the dispute might be getting a bit too much for Mr Davies so we thought he could do with some meditation," said Mr Budden.

Arts and Entertainment
A host of big name acts recorded 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' in London on Saturday
musicCharity single tops chart
News
people
News
peopleChildren leave in tears as Santa is caught smoking and drinking
Sport
premier leagueHull vs Tottenham match report
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Morgana Robinson
arts + entsIt is not easy interviewing Morgana Robinson. Here's why...
News
video
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin