Middlesbrough Council workers feel 'bullied and intimidated' by councillors, report finds

Details of allegations of 'mistrust' between staff and politicians on Middlesbrough Council have emerged in a new report. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Details of allegations of 'mistrust' between staff and politicians on Middlesbrough Council, with staff reporting feeling bullied and intimidated, have emerged in a new report.

Council staff are embarrassed by politicians' behaviour, the report also revealed.

In interviews with the professional accountancy body CIPFA, council staff said they felt "mistreated" by politicians, with personal attacks being made against council members and officers both online and in the council chamber.

The review follows a separate audit report released by firm EY in July, which highlighted a "pervasive lack of trust" between staff and politicians, it was reported by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

CIPFA found that language used by officers and elected members was also highlighted as an issue, being deemed "adversarial" with some discussions being described as becoming "confrontational".

In its report, it said: “In the context of what will be a very difficult 2023/24 budget settlement, and a cost-of-living crisis that is affecting the lives of the citizens of Middlesbrough, the issues identified in this report have the potential to increase the risk that the council will not be able to deliver its priorities.”

The report details that staff morale has been impacted, affecting their ability to do their job.

In some cases, elected politicians had taken to social media to criticise local authority staff but sanctions for this behaviour had not always been consistent.

The review also found there was a "clash of cultures" between elected mayor Andy Preston and the council's chief executive, Tony Parkinson with a “difficult” relationship existing between the pair.

It said: “The mayor and the chief executive’s different ways of working, and views of what constitutes good governance, have led to a difficult relationship.

“This culminated in the chief executive being unwilling to sign the annual governance statement, although progress has been made on this subsequently and it has now been signed.”

CIPFA also believes there is a "disturbing" lack of full understanding of the Nolan principles, which set out the basic ethical standards for those who hold public office - including selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

The report recommends that mayor Andy Preston seek the backing of the council to develop an action plan to tackle the issues raised.

At the next meeting on 19 October, the council will vote on the creation of the cross-party improvement board including senior council officers and politicians. Members will also vote on whether to endorse commissioning CIPFA to help produce a detailed response plan, which will be reported to the full council in November.

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