More than 70 people give evidence to independent inquiry into serious whistleblowing allegations

Initial findings into whistleblowing complaints about the behaviour and working culture within Cityclean, the council’s waste service, have been presented to the council’s leadership.

The report, written by independent King's Counsel Aileen McColgan, details a service mired in racism, sexism and homophobia where swearing, shouting and threatening behaviour has become routine, including towards managers and senior managers.

The council takes these allegations with the most extreme seriousness and will be taking action on the findings.

Summary report now published

The full report is expected to be published before the end of this month, but a four-page summary published today (Thursday 12 October) states: “A number of witnesses expressed concern about racism at the depot. 

"I heard a number of Cityclean staff had been subject to racist name calling by their colleagues and that a truck had been regularly defaced with racist graffiti while parked in the depot.

“One manager told me that he came into work every day with a bad taste in his mouth because he knew that he would be shouted, pointed and yelled at and people would be storming off and slamming doors. 

“What should be straightforward managerial decisions on the utilisation of staff when, for example, people are off sick escalate into morning-long events with members of staff storming off and crews going out hours late.

‘Misogynistic culture’

“One manager described very personal comments having been made about her appearance. Another spoke about the very misogynistic culture at the depot which she told me she had to put up with most of the time because of the potential risks of challenging it.” 

The report adds: “A number of witnesses said that much of the criticism aimed at women in senior management was related to the fact that they were women.

‘Subjected to homophobic ‘banter’ for being gay’

“One witness spoke of a culture of racism, homophobia and sexism and told me that a group of loaders (bin collectors) ‘catfished’ gay staff on Grindr.”

(Catfishing is a deceptive activity in which a person creates a fake identity on a social networking service, usually to target a specific victim.)

The report continues: “One witness, who told me that he was gay, found himself the subject of homophobic ‘banter’ while another said that a lot of people on refuse had refused to work with him because he was gay.”

Shouting, aggression and bullying

The report also states: “I have heard accounts of (non-managerial) individuals:

  • shouting and/or swearing at and/or threatening staff
  • ‘effing and blinding on a daily basis’
  • banging on walls and tables and storming out of meetings
  • acting in a physically aggressive way, making implicit and explicit threats to use physical violence and in fact using such violence
  • referring to managers as ‘c****’, ‘w******’, ‘a f****** b**** pulling the strings’ 
  • making inappropriate sexual comments to and about women
  • calling a member of staff a ‘Black c***’
  • telling staff that they did not need to attend mandatory diversity training
  • telling a manager that even if they left the council, the individual would follow them, find them and make sure they never got another job.

‘No evidence that managers are hostile to trade unions’

Although claims have been made in the past that managers where anti-trade union, Aileen McColgan KC states: “I found no evidence that any of the managers I spoke to were hostile to trade unions. Many, perhaps a majority, identified themselves to me as trade union members.

“I am satisfied that managers at Cityclean and elsewhere in the council have, until recently, been unable to respond appropriately to such behaviour by reason of the threat of industrial action and a (reasonably) anticipated absence of political support.

“Various decisions made at the highest level of the council in 2019 in connection with the industrial action which was threatened conveyed a message to managers at Cityclean that decisions relating to disciplinary action against certain members of staff would not be supported by the council.

‘Staff reinstated despite gross misconduct’

“I note in this context that Member (Councillors) Appeal Panels have on occasion reinstated staff dismissed by Cityclean on grounds of gross misconduct.

“This message has continued to be felt at Cityclean and it is only recently that that position has begun to shift.”

Aileen McColgan KC has made a number of recommendations to change the behaviour and working culture, including disciplinary action against some individuals.

Chief executive to reassure staff

Council chief executive Will Tuckley, who joined the council in May, has written to all Cityclean staff today (Thursday 12 October) with a message about the report and a reassurance that the necessary action will be taken to ensure the behaviour and culture at Cityclean changes for the better for all staff.

He said: “I and the senior leadership team at the council have been working very closely with the new political leadership to ensure this report is published.

“We are all determined to improve the behaviour and culture at Cityclean to make sure it’s a fair and inclusive place for everyone to work, and to ensure the service we provide to our residents and businesses is the best it can be.”

Councillor Sankey called for inquiry on becoming leader 

Council Leader, Bella Sankey, called for the independent inquiry and ensured that an independent KC was instructed after becoming leader in May, following whistleblowing disclosures about behaviours at Cityclean.

Councillor Sankey said: “I am deeply concerned by the findings in this report concerning the working culture at CityClean. It paints a picture of a service mired in racism, misogyny and homophobia and where a culture of bullying, intimidation and aggression has taken hold.  

“As Leader of Brighton & Hove City Council, I want to apologise, on behalf of Brighton & Hove City Council, to every staff member who has been affected by these behaviours, past and present, and to residents whose service has been affected by the dysfunction that has resulted.

‘A vow to take action’

“Brighton & Hove City Council must be an organisation which has zero tolerance for bullying, aggression, racism, misogyny and homophobia. This is essential for staff to feel safe, respected and supported and for our Council to deliver the high-quality services that residents deserve and expect. 

"As the new Council Leader, the buck stops with me. I will ensure that once we’ve completed necessary legal processes, the full report and recommendations are published and that we now take appropriate action to address the report’s findings for our staff and residents.”

Councillor Sankey added: “Every member of our valued staff has the right to work in a safe, respectful environment without the fear of harassment and intimidation." 

The full report is likely to be published later this year following legal processes.

This includes a ‘representation' process known as ‘Maxwellisation’.

Maxwellisation is the practice whereby a person or organisation who faces criticism in a public report is given an opportunity to respond to such criticism prior to publication of the report. 

This is done either by providing the person or organisation with the passages of the draft report containing the proposed criticism or by providing a summary or the gist of the proposed criticism and allowing an opportunity to respond. 

Councillor Sankey added: “I want to thank all those who have been brave enough to come forward to tell their stories as well as Aileen McColgan KC for conducting the inquiry.”