We were assured that disciplinary problems were behind council, but latest case suggests otherwise - John McLellan

An industrial tribunal has awarded £28,665 compensation to a Lithuanian social worker employed by City of Edinburgh CouncilAn industrial tribunal has awarded £28,665 compensation to a Lithuanian social worker employed by City of Edinburgh Council
An industrial tribunal has awarded £28,665 compensation to a Lithuanian social worker employed by City of Edinburgh Council
After the review of Edinburgh Council’s management culture at the end of 2021, councillors were assured there was no evidence of the deliberate use of unfair disciplinary action against staff.

At the time I found this strange because two teachers approached me with serious allegations of disciplinary charges being levelled against them because they had raised concerns about management behaviour in their schools. I also knew they had spoken to the review team, yet on this count at least the inquiry chair Susanne Tanner KC gave the council a clean bill of health.

Against that background, I should therefore presume unfair action against employees is a new phenomenon because an industrial tribunal has just awarded £28,665 compensation to a Lithuanian social worker employed only last year who was forced out of her job after enduring a traumatic disciplinary investigation.

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It’s hard to imagine a more damning judgement; the social worker was “treated like a criminal” and was “humiliated by her treatment” just because a manager had questions about the validity of her qualifications and whether she was registered to practice in Scotland.

Finding she had been discriminated against because of her nationality, the tribunal said it “was astonished that any employee would be treated by a local authority in the way in which the claimant was treated, still less an experienced professional social worker who had only recently moved to this country”.

It also noted she was “on the verge of tears or in tears” throughout her evidence, which was what I witnessed when the bullied whistleblowers spoke to me.

Concluding discrimination was the cause, the tribunal found her treatment was, “so wholly unreasonable in so many respects on so many occasions, that incompetence or a lack of compassion or understanding was not the reason”.

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As expected, a City of Edinburgh Council spokesperson said the authority was “committed to creating an environment that recognises and values the diversity of all colleagues,” just as in 2021 the chief executive Andrew Kerr said: “We owe it to our colleagues and to the public to continue to drive improvements and make sure the culture of the council is the best it possibly can be.”

The best, it turned out, included the victimisation of a worker because of her nationality only a few months later, and a weaponising of disciplinary procedures Susanne Tanner said she had not found.

That being so, the senior manager blamed for the abuse has displayed an extraordinary level of creativity in finding ways to intimidate a new member of staff, but an alternative explanation is she had learnt from the culture around her in which managers could isolate people they felt were a problem. In 2021 we were assured the council had no widespread problems, it was just a few bad apples in an otherwise lovely barrel of fruit, the bad guys had gone, it was all historic, nothing more to see here, and all that complacent stuff.

Andrew Kerr thanked Ms Tanner for the “thorough recommendations on how to sustain the positive path the council is on,” but it was not a path down which this social worker was led.

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All we have is more excuses, more hand-wringing, more promises of improvement. No wonder the ongoing campaign by whistleblowers for a proper independent inquiry dismissed the Tanner review as a whitewash.

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