Donald Duck helps out council staff

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IF YOU walk into Walsall council's offices the person who deals with your enquiry may be Clint Eastwood or Donald Duck. Council employees have been told they can use any name they like, including those of film stars or celebrities, to avoid being identified outside work by upset locals.

Three months ago the West Midlands authority decided, as part of its customer care policy, that members of the public should get to know officials with the help of name tags. However, the idea ran into opposition from the unions which said employees could be identified and attacked.

Now Bob Barnard, Walsall's director of personnel, has backed down and said that staff dealing with the public can choose any name they wish for their badges.

Leaders of all three political parties on the council are furious that employees are being allowed to make up names.

Ian Shires, Liberal Democrat spokesman, said: 'We can't have members of staff making up names or using celebrity names. The whole idea of these name tags is that people should know who they are dealing with and should be able to ask for that person again if they come back with a problem. You can't have members of the public coming in and asking for Clint Eastwood or Donald Duck.'

Paul Macmanomy, a Unison spokesman, said that using real names 'could be positively harmful to some of our members working in reception areas and departments like social services, housing and poll tax, because people could recognise names of council officials from the badges and single them out for attack.' There were more than 200 assaults on staff last year, he said.

The issue is to be raised again at the council's policy and resources committee which decided to make employees more approachable in the first place. Perhaps councillors will take note of a minor league football team from Bristol which put question marks rather than numbers on players' backs - making it difficult for the referee to know who to send off or book for a foul.