Staff bullying at Ryedale Council: 'It has caused mental illness with some people still suffering panic attacks'

Ryedale Council, which has been at the centre of years of investigation into staff complaints of bullying, has seen a big turn-round in staff morale, councillors have been told.

By News Reporter
Monday, 24th February 2020, 12:35 pm

The council, which has the smallest population of any English district authority - 55,000, has been at the centre of a long-running investigation after a senior member, Cllr John Clark, leader of the Liberal group, called for an investigation, revealing a catalogue of complaints from staff starting, he said, some six years ago.

As a result, Emeritus Professor John Raine and former Research Fellow at University of Birmingham Eileen Dunstan carried out an independent investigation into allegations of mistreatment of staff at the council.

In their report of May 2018, which was presented at the full council meeting last week, they said that internal communication at the time needed to be "significantly improved for staff and members".

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Ryedale Council offices

A senior communications professional has since been appointed.

The Raine Dunstan Report to RDC into the historic bullying issues added: "The evidence gathered in the course of this investigation has generally confirmed a significantly high level of awareness among staff, at least in certain parts of the organisation, of various negative behaviours that have been occurring over several years and cannot be explained away as symptomatic of transitional difficulties associated with the recent staffing re-organisation and downsizing of the council's team of personnel.

"Moreover, so serious were some of the cases of victimisation, we understand, that a number of staff have chosen to leave because the organisation was, in their view, failing to address the problem sufficiently robustly."

They said they had interviewed a number of staff. One had told them: "I don't feel the councillors have a clue what is really going on. They hardly ever come into the offices to meet and greet staff. Staff and members need to talk to each other."

Ryedale Council offices

Other comments from interviewed staff included: "Uncomfortable discussing anything medically related with line manager as this trust has been betrayed previously. Worried about what may happen in my absence - others have used the opportunity to change things or undermine."

Several staff said they felt "pressured". One said: "I have a very busy job and it is frowned upon to go sick in my department, Lots of work to do and unless bed ridden would come to work."

Leader of the authority, Cllr Keane Duncan, said: "We have put new procedures and policies in place but we still have more to do."

Cllr John Clark, who triggered the bullying issue said: "The investigation has taken an unbelievable two and a half years," adding that he had called for investigations into 20 cases of bullying on staff. "It has caused mental illness with some people still suffering panic attacks. Some left their jobs with no alternative job to go to."

He added that he had asked the then chief executive of the council to investigate but nothing happened. "We have a duty of care to our employees. Some who were bullied in the past may still be our responsibility."

Other councillors described the bullying as "very sad" with more than 46 per cent of staff describing morale at the time of the investigations as "quite low".

Several councillors praised the current chief executive, Stacey Burlet, for creating a new happy working environment at the council headquarters, Ryedale House, in Malton.