Don't call me Mandelson

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The Independent Online
A SENIOR council official faces disciplinary action after sending an internal e-mail in which she compared a senior colleague to Peter Mandelson. The council decided the description "was likely to cause personal offence to any reasonable person", writes Alistair Clay.

Susan Rae, an economic development officer at Scottish Borders council, used the comparison while informing colleagues of Unison's efforts to introduce flexitime at the council. But the council felt the e-mail undermined the professional integrity of Diane Hunter, the council's head of personnel, when it asked if she had taken a leaf out of Mr Mandelson's book of spin- doctoring in trying to sell flexitime.

Ms Rae wrote: "Has Ms Hunter been taking lessons from Peter Mandelson? If someone e-mailed you that the world was flat, would that actually make it so?"

She now faces four charges of misconduct, including sending unauthorised e-mail messages and improper use of work time. The decision to bring charges against Ms Rae was confirmed in a letter from the council's head of economic development, Trevor Burrows. Other staff at the office say that e-mail is often used for personal as well as professional messages, as in most offices.

John Askew, the council's public relations officer, said that disciplinary action would be taken against Ms Rae but that he hoped "the matter would be settled amicably". Unison's Borders secretary, John Shaw, said, "I would rather not go into the details of the case but if any action is taken we will contest it on Ms Rae's behalf." Ms Rae was unavailable for comment.

A government spokesman was unable to confirm whether or not Mr Mandelson was considering action against the council for taking the view that being compared to him was derogatory and offensive.