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Chief Executive says bullying and intimidation must stop

Middlesbrough Council Chief Executive Tony Parkinson has called for elected members to show respect and decency towards staff.

The authority’s Head of Paid Service has made the request following a number of complaints made to him about the behaviour of councillors when dealing with council officers.

Last week, following an independent investigation a Standards Committee Hearing upheld two complaints made against Cllr Terry Lawton, who represents the Brambles and Thorntree ward on Middlesbrough Council, for a campaign of bullying and intimidation over a prolonged period of time.

A further Hearing is also scheduled to consider similar allegations against another councillor.

It follows on from previous Standards Committee Hearings into the behaviour of a very small number of councillors towards officers.

Mr Parkinson said: “Bullying and intimidation is completely unacceptable and as Head of Paid Service with Middlesbrough Council I will not stand by and allow my officers to be treated in this way.

“Were these instances to be between members of staff, there are protocols and if necessary disciplinary actions that can be taken to protect the victims – that is not the case for councillors. Officers are also, unlike elected members, unable to defend themselves from attacks in the public arena such as on social media.

“Officers carry out their duties impartially and to the best of their abilities in accordance with the political direction given to them. They should have a reasonable expectation when they come to work that they will not be bullied or intimidated by councillors, who must recognise that, in effect, they are our employer and as such, have a responsibility and duty of care towards staff.

“The sustained and deliberate actions considered in previous Standards Hearing and those to be shortly considered have had a serious impact on staff at all levels of the organisation.

“Staff are living in fear and in some cases, their health and wellbeing and their ability to do their jobs has been significantly affected by the way in which certain councillors have treated them. I am certain that any reasonable person would agree that is simply not acceptable. 

“I am happy to work in any way to resolve any issue any councillor has and fully recognise their legitimate role in challenging decisions and actions. That said, this kind of behaviour goes way beyond what can be considered reasonable and respectful must stop and stop now.”

In the last Standards Hearing Cllr Lawton, who has yet to apologise, was found to have acted in a way that adversely impacted on staff, largely in the form of a large number of emails and social media posts.

It was also found that the Councillor had acted inappropriately when sending unproven allegations via email to all councillors and some members of staff and posting allegations on social media. In doing so he failed to treat other with respect. 

Cllr Lawton also breached the social media policy through personal and derogatory comments which could expose the Council to legal and governance risks. It was determined that the totality of his behaviour had the effect of bringing the council into disrepute.