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‘Only interested in their reputation’: Highland Council employees speak out about internal bullying

The Highland Council invested in seasonal access rangers to protect the land over summer months.

A whistle-blower group of employees from Highland Council have opened up about claims of internal bullying within the organisation.

According to the group, bullying, harassment and undermining behaviour have been a prominent issue across the local authority for years.

They have been forced to remain anonymous due to the risk of being dismissed as a result of speaking out.

The group is made up of employees from across different departments and teams, and is being supported by the GMB union.

Highland Council has responded saying it is taking the allegations “very seriously”.

‘Bullying, condescending and aggressive’

Speaking to The Inverness Courier, one member of the group said the council prioritises its reputation over the wellbeing of its employees.

They said: “I felt the council is only interested in their reputation and not interested at all in the health and wellbeing of their staff.”

It was reported that staff feel undermined, and that managers have been known to address staff in a “bullying, condescending and aggressive manner.”

They also discussed a council-wide “culture of secrecy,” which has led some employees to not be given information vital to their role.

Concerns have been raised about “bullying” at Highland Council. Photo: Shutterstock

One member said: “You only received limited information and then when you produce the task it gets picked to bits.

“It seems like a deliberate tactic to undermine you and then say: ‘See, I told you they shouldn’t have been involved’.”

Attempts to voice opinions and complaints were reportedly suppressed, with managers coming together to squash complaints in a “culture of enablement.”

The group reported instances of anxiety and depression as a result of treatment while working at Highland Council.

‘Disregard from management’

The GMB union recently conducted a survey which addressed some of these claims.

Of around 100 people who took part, almost 60% claimed that they had raised concerns about the behaviour of management or colleagues.

Of those who had done so, 53% felt they were not taken seriously, and 69% said they did not feel involved throughout the process.

Nearly 70% were not satisfied with how their concerns were dealt with.

More than a third of primary schools in ‘poor’ condition in Scotland are in the Highlands.

John McCartney, GMB Scotland organiser, has called for a meeting with Highland Council management to address the outcomes of the survey.

He told the Inverness Courier: “GMB were approached by a group of members who had similar experiences when raising concerns around bullying, harassment and mistreatment.

“The cases showed a disregard from management and HR in following the correct procedures and supporting those who raised the complaints.

“Having met with council officers, we are calling for action in the strongest possible terms so that employee harassment does not get worse.

“Our objective is finding a resolution for our members.”

‘The council will not tolerate harassment’

Highland Council – which has more than 10,000 staff – responded to the allegations saying it would be surprising not to have issues of this sort in an organisation so large.

It also said that it has not yet seen the full findings of the survey.

A spokeswoman from Highland Council told the Inverness Courier: “The council takes any allegations of bullying very seriously.

“Highland Council is an organisation of over 10,000 staff and within this context it would be surprising not to have any issues and indeed we would want staff to feel they can come forward if they have a problem. We are aware of a very small number of cases and these are being worked through within our policies.

“We have recently reviewed and strengthened our whistle-blowing policy which now includes a confidential contact and telephone helpline and email address where staff can raise issues and we report concerns through the council’s internal audit function.

“The council’s position is clear: ‘The council will not tolerate harassment or victimisation by employees or workers under its control and will take appropriate action to protect those who raise a concern either during its investigation; and/or subsequent to investigation.’

“The grievance policy is currently being reviewed and bullying and harassment contacts across all council departments have been trained to support and direct staff to appropriate routes to address their issues.

“We are aware of a survey being undertaken by GMB, however findings have not been shared with the council as yet. When the findings have been shared with us, we will work with the union to address any issues that are raised.

“The council has introduced regular staff and trade union engagement activities. More mediators are also being trained to enable issues to be addressed at an early stage and training is available/being developed to assist managers with performance management.”

These allegations come at a time when NHS Highland is also under ongoing scrutiny for reports of bullying and harassment.

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