Edinburgh Council inquiry must take bullying complaints seriously. It cannot be a whitewash – John McLellan
What makes someone go out of their way to constantly belittle someone? To be prepared to undermine them, to shout at them, play mind games and do everything possible to shatter their confidence?
These are not my words, but from a victim statement written by an Edinburgh Council employee who contacted me after last week’s column raised questions for the inquiry now examining the authority’s management culture.
The account of her feelings is more powerful than anything I could write, but the fact she brought it to me underlines how little faith employees have in the investigation the council has asked Suzanne Tanner QC to conduct.
“I felt worthless, humiliated, a failure and lost all confidence. I was unsure, shaky and felt panicky. This was all made worse due to the lack of any support from senior management,” she wrote.
She raised a formal complaint but claims her concerns were dismissed and none of the witnesses she offered to corroborate her story were interviewed.
“I was made to feel like a liar and felt increasingly alone and isolated. Indeed, my complaints were made light of and hushed up as quickly as possible. I was told on several occasions that I was in danger of potential misconduct if I mentioned bullying and harassment.”
She is not alone because another staff member got in touch with a similar story, alleging that when she raised her concerns the result was a counter-claim against her.
“There are many things I would like to say about what has happened, but I am afraid to speak up after all that has happened,” she said this week. “When I raised a concern, I was made to feel as if I was the problem and that I had done something wrong.”
Relationship problems can arise in any organisation, but it’s how they are handled which matters and too much is emerging for these allegations to be brushed aside, not when set against the lurid background to the cases of ex-headteacher Derek Curran, senior social work officer Sean Bell and the treatment meted out by senior managers to education officers John and Deirdre Travers.
This is not just any organisation, but one which looks after the young, vulnerable and infirm, and also lays down exacting standards for other organisations to follow before it does business with them. Abusing and bullying employees is unacceptable anywhere, but the council’s standards should be beyond reproach, and demonstrably so.
So how does that square with this?
“My manager systematically acted in a way which eroded my confidence with continual criticisms, shakes of the head, sighs and verbal abuse… which would eventually reduce me to tears and left me feeling worthless. There was never praise… everything was questioned, and this was done even in front of [others].
“I provided full details of witnesses, but this was not followed up. I was basically told to stop being so sensitive and stop causing a fuss.” After five years, she got a move out.
“I wrote this in an effort to give me some sort of closure ─ although I know the effects will be with me for the rest of my life ─ and hopefully protect others.”
The Tanner Inquiry outcome can’t be pre-judged, but nor can there be a whitewash at Waverley Court.