Hackney Council bullying row: ‘Lack of evidence of bullying, racism and harassment at service centre’ – independent report

Hackney Service Centre.

Hackney Service Centre. - Credit: Archant

Insufficient evidence of bullying, harassment and racism within a Hackney Council call centre means an independent investigator can take no action on the claims.

A report was published this week into the probe, which was launched late last year following accusations by the three major unions within the town hall – Unite, Unison and GMB. The accusations were first revealed by the Gazette in November.

Consultant Steve Sherman held one-to-one meetings with staff and ex-staff from the Hackney Service Centre behind the town hall, and also accepted written submissions.

Six separate accusations were made about bullying, racism and harassment from managers, but because the people who made them either did not want to go on record or heard about the allegations second hand, Mr Sherman concluded no action could be taken.

The investigation received the backing of the unions initially, but all three pulled out at the end of February after declaring they had “lost faith” in the council’s commitment to it. Hackney Council chief exec Tim Shields hit back at claims the probe had been undermined.

Mr Sherman has recommended the council fixes its relationship problems with the unions.

For all our coverage on the council bullying row, click here.

Mr Sherman did, however, find that team leaders have “skills shortages” when it comes to people management and that senior managers need to brush up on their technical knowledge.

He also found problems with the management culture and working practice, after people complained “cliques” existed within the team leaders and poor relationships between them were being “played out in front of them”.

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One worker said: “There is bitching and sniping going on behind peoples backs and slagging off to other staff.”

Mr Sherman said: “The poor working relationships at team leader level is evident. It is unsatisfactory, incompatible with Hackney values and is having a major impact on staff morale and service delivery. It is imperative urgent steps are taken to address this.”

He also said it was clear there was a distrust with the recruitment pr ocess, particularly for promotions in the service area.

“Staff have no confidence there is a level playing field and a transparent process when these jobs are made available,” he said.

He recommended a review of learning and development needs for team leaders to improve their people management.

He also suggested the town hall “urgently explores” a process of external professional mediation with all team leaders to restore their relationships.

Another major issue was the high number of agency workers, which some said created a “here today, gone tomorrow” culture and a lack of job security.

Mr Sherman recommended “that the service area moves to a position of having an agreed fixed establishment of permanent staff that can be sustained all year round, with a layer of temporary positions being used only to deal with peaks of work as they arise.”

Responding to the report, Hackney mayor Phil Glanville said the report “raises some challenging issues that the council needs to address.

He added: “It’s clear there is much work to do around some management practices in this area of the council, as well as the use of agency staff across the organisation and we will continue to monitor and challenge progress in this area.

“This will go hand-in-hand with work already under way to improve workplace practice, including our new inclusive leadership programme to embed good practice and achieve a more diverse leadership; local recruitment campaigns to ensure our staff reflect the residents they serve; and going above and beyond in the Local Government Association’s Equalities Framework, which previously rated us as ‘excellent’ and said that ‘equalities is in Hackney’s DNA.’ I announced earlier in the year that this would also include mandatory training on diversity.

“Since becoming mayor I have sought to actively engage with staff and our trade unions, and I’m proud of the council’s work, but of course we can never be complacent.

“My cabinet members and I will always listen to staff concerns when they are raised with us and ensure that all aspects of this report are taken on board and implemented in full.”

CEO Tim Shields said: “We are taking the findings of the investigation very seriously. I will be working with the director for housing services and staff to ensure changes are made quickly and effectively.”

Mr Shields said some of the issues raised, such as the use of agency workers, were already being addressed, and referenced the mandatory diversity and inclusive leadership training for all managers that has been rolled out.