Harrogate council staff pay review highlights bullying and harassment claims

Allegations of bullying, harassment and undermining of staff have been made at Harrogate Borough Council.

Friday, 25th June 2021, 12:11 pm
Updated Friday, 25th June 2021, 12:14 pm
Pictured is Harrogate Borough Council's headquarters on Knapping Mount.

As part of an ongoing review into pay at the authority, some staff responded to a survey with claims that their bosses "work together to threaten" and "get what they want" from lower down workers.

One member of staff said in a report that the council "bullies and harasses its staff regularly," adding: "I have been on the receiving end of this - the lies, being made to feel incompetent, being bullied and harassed on returning to work.

"Harrogate Borough Council needs to take a long hard look at itself."

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Reacting to the allegations, David Houlgate, secretary of Unison Harrogate which represents council workers, said the claims were "not a surprise" but he added he did not believe there was a "culture" of bullying at the authority

He said: "The council is a large employer with over 1,000 staff. It is sadly inevitable that bullying behaviour will and does occur.

"The council has policies and procedures to deal with these and when our members come to us with complaints we fully expect the council to engage with us and fully respond and resolve the issues being raised.

"If we feel this is not happening, then we do involve our legal representatives but this does not happen very often."

A spokesperson for the council said there had been two complaints of inappropriate behaviour and one grievance regarding bullying and harassment raised in 2021. These are currently under investigation.

In 2020, one grievance was raised regarding bullying and harassment with no further action taken at either stages one or two of the grievance procedure.

And in 2019, one complaint of bullying and harassment was investigated and an appropriate level of warning issued.

The spokesperson said: “Sadly, at some time or another, all employers will have to deal with bullying and/or harassment in their workplace.

"It is something we will not stand for and any incident is dealt with in accordance our behaviour policy. Thankfully, these reports are very few and far between.

“It is encouraging to see that the Local Government Association (LGA) agree that our new pay and grading structure is consistent with the national position.”

The allegations were made as part of a review into pay which could see 17 of the council's most senior staff next month get pay rises totalling around £133,000 between them.

Meanwhile, mainstream workers, who had their pay structure reviewed more recently two years ago, are currently in negotiations for a further rise. This is after a study concluded the recruitment and retention of staff was challenging and that pay was a factor.

Out of the 553 employees who responded to the survey held in August, over 80% gave pay as one of the main reasons why they would consider quitting their jobs.

Mr Houlgate said staff have been offered a "derisory" 1.5% pay rise this year - an increase which he believes does not go far enough to recognise them as the "unsung heroes" of the coronavirus pandemic.

He said: "Unison has been clear for a long time that levels of pay for council staff has been a major contributory factor in relation to recruitment and retention issues.

"We have seen a decade of staff being overworked and undervalued whilst enduring significant real term pay cuts, redundancies and increased workloads.

"The council now seems to be waking up to this and says it is putting things in place to tackle these issues but we have real concerns about the timeframe it has set and whether it will deliver on these.

"This needs to happen now otherwise people will leave."

As well as the bullying and harassment allegations, and complaints over pay, several staff also responded to the survey with positive comments about working at the council. Here is what they said.

Positive

The fact that the council offers a free mental health service is a great benefit to the whole council.

I really have no intention to leave at the moment because I enjoy my job. It offers challenge, variety, flexibility etc.

The council is a great place to work, however the pay is not competitive with other local authorities.

I have really enjoyed working for Harrogate Borough Council and have been able to progress and work flexibly.

Negative

Harrogate Borough Council bullies and harasses its staff regularly. HR and managers, including directors work together to threaten, undermine and bully the staff to get what they want. I have been on the receiving end of this, the lies, being made to feel incompetent, being bullied and harassed on returning to work.

Employees over 50 aren’t valued. I have heard more than one manager say that employees over 50 are ‘a threat to the organisation’.

I feel Harrogate Borough Council is lagging behind other authorities in its pay levels and it impacts on our ability to recruit and keep good staff.

The council acts as though they care but it is clear they do not and also they do not have staff trained to offer support when it is requested hence my response to the council not caring about health and wellbeing - it is all lip service and rather patronising when we have real work to do and deadlines.

Some managers do not care about feelings or wellbeing which makes a complete mockery of the council.

There is very little in the way of career progression at Harrogate Borough Council - it is very much ‘dead men’s shoes’.

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter