Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The overzealous auditor - Part 1

When I worked in Ilford for the Redbridge Health Authority I had responsibility for planning and support services. It was in the management of support services like cleaning, laundry, gardening and staff accommodation that I came across a most comic character. He was the chief internal auditor and both smoked a pipe and wore an occasional deerstalker hat. I'm not sure if he also played violin but there could be no doubt he imagined himself to be a modern day Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately while he had much scope for launching investigations he did not share the fictional character's clarity of thought so would do the most inappropriate things at the most inappropriate times.

I am saving my own experience of this for a second installment but in this one - by way of introduction - will relate another of his adventures as reported to me.

This concerned his investigation into the relatively high consumption of steak at one of the hospitals in the district. I think it was at Goodmayes the psychiatric hospital which is where his own office was based.

For one reason or another his suspicions were aroused that the culprits were the catering staff employed in the main kitchen and that the increased high consumption was not down to any other factor such as the recent addition of an adolescent unit which might just have skewed the figures away from previous trends.

He therefore arranged to arrive early one morning before any other member of the kitchen staff had clocked on. With an assistant to verify his findings he was going to observe their behaviour and hopefully catch someone red handed. This meant he needed to have somewhere to hide. Apparently there was no shortage of cupboards and larders where dry food was stored so he chose one of these to hide in with his assistant.

After an hour or so both remained unobserved and yet had seen nothing untoward. Getting a trifle annoyed at this the overzealous auditor struck a match and began to draw on his pipe. In the confined space his assistant who was too afraid to criticise his boss tried to stifle a cough as he was not used to being in such confined and close proximity to pipe smoke.

The assistant later reported later - to the amusement of others - that at first the kitchen staff wondered who was coughing and realising it was not any one of them initially continued with their preparations for breakfast and lunch.

About 10 minutes later however they noticed smoke coming from one of the dry store larders.
As they approached they could pinpoint the stifled coughing as coming from the same place.

"Is there anyone in there?" - they asked but the overzealous auditor unaware of the smoke trail signalled to his assistant to remain silent by placing a finger up to his mouth. The assistant duly complied. A few coughs later - "Look we know you're in there if you don't come out now we're going to ring the police" said the suspected kitchen staff. Still there was no response other than inside the larder the overzealous auditor was gesturing even more demonstratively to his assistant to keep quiet in the belief that the kitchen staff would go away.

It was only when the kitchen staff shouted that they had no option but to open the larder door and use the fire extinguishers to put out the fire that the auditor emerged, pipe in hand and with his assistant following on dutifully behind. Some excuse was blurted out about needing to check stock levels and having got locked inside the larder when no one was around to help get them out. In this way the overzealous auditor extricated himself with - he supposed - his dignity still in tact. In reality of course the kitchen staff had worked out the real reason he was there. In more ways than one therefore the overzealous auditor had truly "blown his cover"

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