Hackney Council’s anti-bullying training abandoned – as not one councillor signs up to it

Natasha Johnson, the council worker at the centre of an acrimonious dispute over workplace bullying.

Natasha Johnson, the council worker at the centre of an acrimonious dispute over workplace bullying. Picture: Unite - Credit: Archant

Hackney councillors received no training in bullying and harassment in 2018 because none of them booked a place on the course – which was scrapped as a result.

By comparison, there were 58 attendees at three sessions on councillors’ code of conduct, 49 at a “Hackney Members Event”, and 14 at a training session on housing.

Hackney has 57 councillors, as well as its directly-elected mayor.

Notice of an independent review into working practices at the council’s call centre was given to town hall employees on December 14, following union claims of “a culture of bullying, harassment and racism”.

Onay Kasab, regional officer for Unite, said of the training cancellation: “This really comes as no great surprise and fits in with a pattern where councillors simply do not want to get involved.

“The response we have had from a number of councillors is that they are not allowed to intervene. This is clear nonsense.

“It was not that long ago when councillors in a number of local authorities sat on appeals against dismissal or final level grievances.

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“Not attending training courses seems to back up our view – elected councillors do not seem interested in preventing bullying and harassment by council officers.”

Other training sessions cancelled as a result of non-attendance included mental health first aid, questioning skills for scrutiny councillors, and casework advice. None of the cancelled sessions were mandatory.

Trade unions vowed in January to escalate their campaign in support of Natasha Johnson, a town hall employee at the centre of an acrimonious dispute over workplace bullying, whose dismissal was confirmed at appeal earlier this month.

In January, Hackney mayor Philip Glanville “absolutely refuted” a list of claims made by Unite and endorsed by Unison and the GMB.

The cancelled training sessions were discussed by councillors and officers at a meeting of the council’s standards committee on Tuesday.

Cllr Anna Lynch (Lab, Homerton), said: “On the cancelled sessions, where it says: ‘No members booked a place on the session,’ for one session I was actually away on holiday.

“There’s something around how that could be perceived, that it’s not that members don’t think it’s important to attend the sessions, and not that there wasn’t any attempt to book the sessions, but that the date of it was not available for that particular member, as opposed to members not having any sense of engagement with training sessions.

“I think we need to be really clear what’s mandatory and what isn’t, as in any workplace. You have mandatory training, and stuff that would be nice to do.”

Bruce Devile, head of governance and business intelligence, responded: “That’s acknowledged. I’m also conscious there’s been a lot of stuff in a very short period of time, and that combined with casework and council diary, we’re probably at the stage of getting to saturation point.”

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble (Lab, London Fields), deputy mayor and cabinet member for education, young people and children’s social care, added: “The Code of Conduct is so high because it is mandatory training. Everything else is optional.

“Safeguarding training I would like to be mandatory, so we should look into that to find out where that stands. As we are corporate parents, every member in their term of office should have that training.

“As it isn’t mandatory, and it’s not clear, and as there are so many competing issues in diaries, if something isn’t mandatory it won’t take priority, something else will.”

She also suggested the council conducts a “skills audit” of its members to ascertain whether or not they are already receiving similar training in their own places of work.