COUNCILLORS will next week to consider calls for an independent investigation into bullying at Coventry City Council.
It follows the release of a survey by a trades union which found that 85 per cent of respondents felt they had been bullied at some point.The calls for an investigation come from Conservative councillors who say this is just the latest development in a long line of incidents. They point to data obtained through Freedom of Information laws which revealed a sudden rise in complaints of bullying from zero in 2016 to 12 in 2018 – as revealed in the Coventry Observer.
The allegations are now set to be discussed at a debate at a full council meeting on Tuesday, March 19 at 2pm, after it was called for by Conservative opposition councillors.
A Coventry Conservatives spokesperson released the following statement: “Before Christmas the mysterious resignation of a senior Labour cabinet member amidst anonymous allegations of bullying raised concerns about the scale of the problem.
“A leaked internal memo from a former council leader later revealed there were calls for an investigation from within the Labour group.
“Just a few weeks earlier another Labour councillor was in trouble for threatening to ‘stamp’ on Coun Tim Mayer.
“Last year another Labour member threatened to ‘thump’ a fellow councillor during a debate in the Council Chamber.
“These events have been accompanied by a rise in the use of so called ‘gagging orders’.
“Under the Non-Disclosure Agreements the departing employee is paid a sum not to talk about their time at the local authority. “The cost of these agreements have risen from £86,922 in 2016 to £344,352 in 2018.
“Conservatives want to bring about a moratorium on their use unless there is a need to protect commercial confidentiality.”
A debate has been called for by Councillor Ken Taylor who is shadow cabinet member for strategic finance and resources.
It has been seconded by Coun Tim Sawdon and the pair hope an inquiry would encourage people to come forward and talk more openly about their experiences.
Coun Taylor said: “We cannot, and will not, tolerate bullying in our organisation.
“Everyone at the Council has a right to be safe from bullying whether that bullying comes from elected members or other staff.
“There is now too much evidence of bullying to simply sweep it under the carpet so we need an investigation to restore confidence in the Council.
“This will clear the air and allow us to deal with any issues in an open and transparent way.”
Coun Tim Sawdon said: “The increased use of ‘hush money’ paid out to silence former employees is very worrying.
“There are very few circumstances where most people would think this was an acceptable use of taxpayer’s money.
“As an open and transparent public body we should be a beacon of best practice for other employers so people should be free to talk openly about their experiences at our organisation.
“Every day Labour pleads poverty while spending more and more on these gagging orders – it’s got to stop.”
Conservative group leader, Coun Gary Ridley, also gave his backing to the proposals: “Our concern is not prompted by one survey or one incident but by a growing number of them over a period of time.
“It’s vital that we have a proper investigation to either uphold or dispel these allegations once and for all.
“The drip-drip effect of bullying-related stories is damaging confidence in the Council and cannot go on.
A spokesperson for Coventry City Council said: “Coventry City Council refutes the bullying allegations made by the GMB union that there is a systemic problem with bullying across the organisation. These findings are totally contrary to what other recent independent survey research has found.
“The GMB survey’s validity and robustness must be questioned as by the union’s own admission this survey was sent to just “dozens” of people which is clearly not representative of the approximate 5,500 people we employ.
“In 2018 more than 1,650 of our workforce took part in an independent staff survey to understand their views over a wide range of issues. From this far more representative process that was benchmarked nationally; bullying, intimidation and harassment was not highlighted as a significant problem and in fact 90% of staff felt that they felt “valued” in their current teams either ‘always’ or ‘some of the time’.
This high rate of satisfaction was greater than many comparative organisations. “Coventry City Council does not tolerate bullying in any form whatsoever. It always take any allegations of bullying very seriously and we have processes in place to hear and deal with any concerns, which is key to ensure fairness to all parties.”
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