Council's culture of fear exposed

23rd January 2004 at 00:00
Report accuses Notts LSC managers of bullying. Ngaio Crequer reports

Rampant bullying by senior managers at Nottinghamshire learning and skills council is exposed in a confidential report obtained by FE Focus.

An endemic culture of fear, intimidation, favouritism, sexual innuendo and abuse of procedures is revealed in the 47-page report.

The report states: "The state of employee relations at the Notts LSC is very poor with a widespread lack of trust and confidence. The organisation is sitting on a legal time-bomb which could explode at any time."

It adds: "The casual and open use of obscenities and derogatory remarks (both sexual and otherwise) is seen as being propagated at senior level and permeating down the organisation. This is a serious barrier to effective employer relations and calls into question the credibility of an organisation which subscribes to the principles of diversity and equality."

The independent inquiry was undertaken by Acas, the conciliation and arbitration service. It was called in by the national LSC, and PCS, the public and commercial services union. This was after a series of allegations of bullying, reported in FE Focus, and an anonymous nine-page letter making accusations of a "draconian culture of fear and intimidation".

At the beginning of the inquiry, Notts managers said most people were satisfied with it and that dissent only came from a small but vocal minority. The union held there were serious and damaging issues that concerned a large majority of staff. "The reality is much closer to the view of the PCS than to management," says the report.

When asked what one thing could be done to improve relations at the LSC, which employs some 80 staff, a random selection of 60 per cent of staff said key personnel at a senior level should leave.

Dave Cliff, PCS senior national officer, said: "It is time the LSC sorted the culprits out. Bullying is completely unacceptable and in the face of this report, they cannot pretend it does not know it is going on. The people concerned should be removed so they are no longer in any position to bully."

David Russell, human resources director at the national LSC, said: "There are no grounds whatsoever to dismiss Rob Valentine (Notts executive director) or Joanne Simpson (his deputy). But we are discussing employment with these individuals.

"There is no evidence to take dismissal action against any managers. The union has been raising issues with us for some months. But no one has ever raised a grievance with us in that office.

"There are management shortcomings, but there are also some on the part of employees, such as writing defamatory letters containing allegations."

He said of the nine-page anonymous letter, that his auditors had found no substance in charges of financial impropriety. "We have used Acas to look into the other allegations. There is clearly an employee relations problem in that office. We have set up a group to take that forward. The first meeting is next week."

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