Threats and abuse towards Harrogate council employees on the rise, says union

Harrogate Borough Council employees have been exposed to a rising tide of abuse, according to their union.
Harrogate Borough Council employees have been exposed to a rising tide of abuse, according to their union.

Incidents of threats and abuse towards council staff in Harrogate are on the rise, according to the union representing many of the authority's front-line workers.

UNISON's Harrogate secretary David Houlgate said while changes at the council, including a series of reviews and restructures, had resulted in services being delivered in new and different ways, there was no excuse for abusing workers.

"Whatever the frustrations some may have with these changes, we ask that council staff be treated in a respectful manner and not subjected to abuse or intimidation," he said.

"Council staff are simply doing their jobs and trying to help and assist people."

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He said that even actions considered "minor" could lead to unforeseen consequences such as depression, anxiety, reduced morale and increased sickness absence, especially when they occur over a period of time.

"We wish to stress that the massive majority of customers do treat council staff with respect and do appreciate and value the public service they

provide," he said.

"We only wish that the small minority who don’t would start to do so."

The union called for Harrogate Borough Council to make it clear that violence from anyone is not acceptable behaviour and is not part of the job, stating a "robust" approach should should be taken to prosecuting the culprits.

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"Nationally we are campaigning for tougher legislation that makes assaulting a public service worker an aggravated offence," a statement from the union said.

In response, a council spokesperson said the authority already had "robust policies in place for the rare occasions" when assault or threats of staff occur.

“The union did not raise this issue with us before publishing its release, which seems to be driven by a national, rather than local, campaign asking people to treat public sector employees with respect," the statement said.

"The council is a very safe place to work and we pride ourselves on supporting our people and being a caring employer.

“It goes without saying that aggression, violence or intimidation towards a member of staff is totally unacceptable.

“We investigate all cases reported to us and will not hesitate, if necessary, to take legal action against perpetrators.”

Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter