Craigavon council spends £200,000 on grievances

Craigavon Lakes and Civic Centre. INPT24-300.

Craigavon Lakes and Civic Centre. INPT24-300.

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More than £200,000 year has been spent by Craigavon Borough Council on dealing with “out of control staffing issues”, according to a document sent to the Lurgan Mail.

Craigavon Council member Arnold Hatch is preparing a dossier of questions over “the inordinate amount of money reportedly being spent on legal fees to deal with the grievance culture within the staff over the years”.

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Mr Hatch said: “I would have been totally sceptical about the amount until the end of last year when I discovered that legal fees were around £300,000 for the 2013-14 financial year and that 70 per cent of that was on staffing matters.

“This report seems to fit in with that assessment and it simply hasn’t been dealt with. It seems to me that a minority of staff have been lodging grievance and these complaints have not been dealt with in a firm enough manner. There have been unnecessary tribunals and legal fees have run out of control.”

The staffing issues are under three headings – ‘bullying and harassment’, ‘unfair treatment’ and ‘other’, with a total of around 100 cases between the peak years of 2007 and 2012.

The £300,000 of 2013-14 is not included in the report. But it was reported in the Lurgan Mail in December and Mr Hatch had it confirmed.

The year 2009 is the worst, according to the report, with 25 cases, although the average is around 16 a year. In one case, staff members were taking action against 10 people – from councillors to managers – but when it was finally dropped, the costs had spiralled.

The authors of the confidential report say that staff work in a culture of fear, adding that alleged malpractice has been ignored by the council, and facts are hidden by managers.

They add that the true number of grievances is closer to 250, and they have made an alleged list of people who have left under a cloud as the result of disciplinary action. They claim that “whistle blowers” are given no protection by the council.

However, Mr Hatch claims that the grievance culture is endemic within the council and has never really been faced up to.

He wants no repeat in the new ABC Council.

“So much time, energy and money has been wasted,” he said. “On one side, employees spend their time looking for grievances and this has never been faced up to.

“I will be checking the legal fees totals and I will be asking the new ABC Council, which starts in April, to learn by Craigavon’s mistakes. This issue has never really been resolved.”