Audit, Inspection and Safety

31.01.18

Troubled Cheshire East Council hit with ‘bullying and inappropriate behaviour’ claim

The standards and practices at a unitary authority in the north west have been questioned after a report found examples of “bullying and inappropriate behaviour” from staff and bosses.

Cheshire East Council was subject to an LGA investigation into its behavioural practices after officials called for a review last year.

The council was shrouded with controversy in September last year after two senior staff, the CEO and the director of legal services, received suspensions prompted by allegations of misconduct.

This week’s review found that staff had taken sick days, sought for help from trade unions, filed grievances, and even quit the organisation as a result of behavioural and cultural issues within the authority.

LGA investigator, Sarah Messenger, said the absence of clear values and behaviours when the council was originally formed in 2009 left a vacuum which was filled by the poor actions of some individuals.

“Sadly, bullying and harassment takes place in many large organisations,” Messenger wrote. “This review has found that this is true within Cheshire East Council and where it occurs it is having a profound impact on those who are experiencing or witnessing it.

“In addition, the impact on the organisational culture and effectiveness may cause the council to lose some talented people and could potentially inhibit the behaviours and attitudes that successful 21st-century public sector organisations want to see: creativity, innovation, resilience, collaboration, confidence, compassion and pride.

“Consequently, senior managers and elected members have a shared responsibility to set a new ‘tone’ for the council in which everyone must play their part in ensuring it is sustainable.”

Employees at the organisation were encouraged to contribute information to the review through email and in response to a survey, and Messenger made clear that there were a number of very positive schemes undertaken by the council at a difficult time in the public sector.

In the most recent survey of staff, undertaken in 2016, a large proportion of people said they were happy with the way the council treated them and had not witnessed any bullying or harassment.

However, the last year’s report did find these issues and details some of the measures in place to deal with them, a number of which have been ongoing for some time.

Acting chief executive of Cheshire East, Kath O’Dwyer, commented: “Bullying and harassment are not acceptable in the workplace. Our staff, quite rightly, should expect to be able to come to work and be treated fairly and with respect.

“We are pleased to hear that most of our staff have never experienced or witnessed either harassment or bullying in the workplace but we will not shy away from the fact that some staff have experienced behaviour from others within the organisation that is not acceptable and, as such, I am saddened by some of the review findings but we are determined to take all necessary action to address the issues of concern identified within the review.”

Messenger recommended that senior management and elected officials should work to change the ‘tone’ set by the organisation at a high level, although she said this could take some time because the level of trust between employees is low in some areas.

She also said Cheshire East should build on current training and consider a new employment deal aimed at changing the problems with the culture.

Top image: Cheshire East Council

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Comments

Cheshire East Resident 101   08/02/2018 at 08:27

If the change is to come from the top down then its dead in the water. There are too many managers who think dumping on subordinates is the way to protect themselves, their career and pension. Whilst recruitment for lower grade workers is not an issue then retention is not a concern. There should be a real value set to recruitment and retention so managers consider the needs of the service and public before their own personal ambitions.

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