Bullying probe at Portsmouth City Council sparks stream of complaints

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SCORES of complaints have been made about the behaviour of councillors as part of a bullying probe.

Eighty separate instances of alleged inappropriate behaviour within Portsmouth City Council have surfaced since the start of the investigation this summer.

Council employees and organisations have opened up to Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt about their grievances over the behaviour of politicians and co-workers.

The list of complaints include instances of people ‘screaming’ at each other to get their own way and concerns that complaints in the workplace are being ignored.

Ms Mordaunt, who earlier this year said bullying was rife at the city council, said: ‘If people have a particular personal issue then it appears it is being ignored and a condition like post-traumatic stress disorder is not recognised or taken into account.

‘There are instances of serious inappropriate behaviour towards members of staff and members of the public.

‘We are talking of cases of people screaming and calling round people’s homes to make a point.

‘There are also concerns about the failure of the administration in dealing with the bullying culture and not acting on basic protocols.’

Guildford solicitor Richard Lingard has been tasked with leading the authority’s enquiry into mistreatment and he is due to scrutinise Ms Mordaunt’s file of complaints.

He will write a report with his findings before deciding whether the council should take disciplinary action.

Councillor Eleanor Scott, who led calls for the investigation to happen, is one of a number of people who have approached Mr Lingard.

She complained about issues she had as a cabinet member under the previous Lib Dem administration.

‘I told him about when there was an informal cabinet meeting where I saw a member of staff reduced to tears by a cabinet member,’ she said.

‘I also had a strategic director complain to me about the stress their staff were being put under by my colleagues.’

Cllr Scott referred Mr Lingard to a report by newly-elected Lib Dem peer Kath Piddock, which she believes was ‘flawed’ as not enough people concerned with mistreatment were interviewed.

The dossier claims Portsmouth politics is ‘dominated’ by attacks on personalities, and senior council officers should have stepped in.

City solicitor Michael Lawther has hit back, saying it isn’t the responsibility of non-elected members to interfere.

Mr Lingard said that he was unable to say how many had come forward with concerns and what the nature of their allegations are.

‘I have spoken to a number of people and still have more to see,’ he said. ‘I am on a fact-finding mission. It has been alleged by some that there has been inappropriate conduct by some councillors. People were given until the end of July to come to me, however Penny Mordaunt has some more material which I will be looking at.’

Cllr Luke Stubbs, deputy council leader, said: ‘Eighty is a shocking number of complaints and this urgently needs to be addressed.’

Richard Lingard was in charge of investigating claims in 2012 that Richard Williams, then leader of Southampton City Council, lied about the resignation of a cabinet member.

Mr Lingard has not billed Portsmouth for his services yet, and his costs will be paid once the investigation is over.

Cllr Donna Jones, council leader, has previously said she expects that to be around the £5,000 mark, the same as the Southampton probe.