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Secret report tells of 'culture of fear'

Staff at a local LSC are afraid to speak their minds, Ngaio Crequer reports

A "culture of fear" has developed in the Nottinghamshire learning and skills council, according to some staff.

They feel "afraid to speak their minds for fear of being 'slapped down' in front of their colleagues". Concerns about the issue are widespread, according to a confidential report by consultants, leaked to FE Focus.

The report, by the Regan Consulting Practice, was commissioned to see whether the LSC was ready to apply for Investors in People status, the national standard for employee training and development. Nottinghamshire does not yet come up to scratch, say the consultants.

The report was leaked following the disclosure in FEFocus last week that a survey of employees in the national pound;8 billion quango felt there was a culture of secrecy, poor leadership and a lack of credibility.

All 47 local councils are aiming to achieve IiP recognition, but so far only 16 have done so. A national spokesman said this was not surprising as the organisations had evolved from two different cultures.

The report says some staff in the Nottinghamshire LSC (budget pound;152 million) do not believe there is a coherent delivery strategy, and some are uncomfortable in their roles. There did not appear to be a coherent plan that married individual and team needs to business priorities.

Some management meetings were improving inter-team work but "most people felt that productive communication, support and encouragement between teams was minimal". The consultants found it difficult to comment on the IiP "indicator" of equality of opportunity in the development of its people, in the absence of an agreed strategy or plan.

Half of those interviewed felt their learning since joining the LSC had been useful, but only 20 per cent could see improvements in the ways development opportunities were offered or delivered. "The core problem for the LSC is that it doesn't have people with the right skills in some of its key roles."

Rob Valentine, the executive director, said that only a "small" number of people felt there was a culture of fear, and this was being addressed.

There were a number of positive statements in the report, he said.

Sixty-five per cent of staff gave examples of effective encouragement, some of which demonstrated excellent practice. The staff liaison committee was a good forum for discussion. "There is a lot that is good, there is a small amount that is bad and we are going to better that," he said.

In January, college chiefs called for closer scrutiny of local LSCs after the principal and chair of governors at South Nottingham College resigned following a row over funding. They had accused Nottinghamshire LSC of exaggerating the college's financial problems and failing to discuss "reasonable" plans to refund cash. This was denied by the council. An executive director from a neighbouring LSC was asked to investigate.

The national office said: "We have investigated one complaint regarding Nottinghamshire LSC and we are in correspondence with a complainant about a second complaint."

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