Whistleblower report into council waste service published

An independent report into Brighton & Hove City Council’s waste service has been published.

The 17-page report, by King’s Counsel Aileen McColgan, was called for by council leader Bella Sankey after whistleblowers came forward alleging sex discrimination, racial harassment and other abuses. 

The KC spoke to more than 70 witnesses from all levels and jobs within the Cityclean service and released her report today after a three-month investigation. 

The KC was provided with extensive documentary evidence from a number of sources and heard numerous accounts of appalling behaviour faced by staff and managers at Cityclean.

Immediate inquiry called for

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

Councillor Sankey said: “Anyone reading this report will be deeply shocked at what they read.

“I have rightly apologised on behalf of Brighton & Hove City Council to every member of staff past and present who has been affected by the toxic culture that was allowed to grow and fester within Cityclean.”

Aileen McColgan KC’s report highlights accounts of individuals:

  • Threatening to stab people
  • Bringing weapons into the depot and showing them to staff
  • Pointing in managers’ faces while shouting, 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, including stating ‘who would wanna f*** that?’ as one woman walked past
  • Calling a member of staff a ‘Black c*** and painting racist graffiti on bin lorries while parked in the depot
  • Refusing to work with a member of staff because he is gay.

The report finds that many of the individuals accused of these and other inappropriate behaviours are either GMB reps within the council, or are among a group of around 10 white men who were described to the KC by witnesses as having been particularly protected by the GMB reps within the council.

Depot search uncovers dangerous and illegal weapons   

While the report was being compiled, an allegation was made that weapons were brought into the depot and shown to staff. 

As a result of this serious and extremely worrying allegation, a search of the Cityclean depot was carried out by an independent security company and illegal weapons were found in the office used by the GMB.

These included a samurai sword, nunchucks, knives and other violent weapons that were then handed to the police. An internal investigation has started into this matter. 

Local GMB reps used strike threats to maintain a toxic culture at the depot

The KC found that managers at Cityclean and elsewhere in the council have, until recently, been unable to respond appropriately to the behaviour discussed in the report by reason of the threat of industrial action and a (reasonably) anticipated absence of political support.

The KC has found the GMB operates at Cityclean to protect some of its members while displaying significantly less interest in other members.

Council told to scrap Members Appeal Panel 

Aileen McColgan has made 10 recommendations to the council to create a safe working environment including taking firm action on behaviour, equality matters and stopping councillors getting involved in disciplinary proceedings, the Member Appeals Panel, plus the day to day running of the service. 

Aileen McColgan adds: “There have also been cases in which disciplinary dismissals have been overturned on appeal to panels of councillors.  

“One manager told me that, until recently, Cityclean management expected their decisions to be overturned, to be punished by the GMB for having made these decisions, and for the council to fail to protect them from the punishment.” 

‘I vow to take action’ 

Councillor Sankey added: “Now the depth of the bullying, aggression, racism, misogyny and homophobia have been exposed, I have vowed to take action to ensure this toxic culture is never allowed to rear its head again.

“As council leader I will accept nothing less than zero tolerance to bullying, sexism, racism, aggression and intimidation within Brighton & Hove City Council.” 

“As leader and as a council, we fully accept Aileen McColgan’s recommendations.

“We must also look towards the council and GMB having a far better and more constructive and positive relationship at Cityclean and within the wider council for the benefit of all our staff, residents, businesses and visitors.”  

‘Every action will be taken to change behaviour’ 

Council chief executive Will Tuckley, who also joined the council in May, has already written to Cityclean staff reassuring them every action to change the behaviour and culture at the service will be taken. 

He said: “Many people came forward to give evidence and I’m extremely grateful to them and Aileen McColgan KC for carrying out the inquiry.  

“Their bravery will mean the toxic culture at Cityclean being finished for good and the service will be a safer, happier and calmer place to work for everyone, with our residents and businesses getting the services they deserve.”

Mr Tuckley added: “I have today written to the GMB about the need for us to work together on the recommendations, and in joining me to root out these horrendous behaviours that have mired the service for many years.”