Bullying allegation against PCC upheld

The Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for North Yorkshire “should go on a management and leadership development programme” after bullying behaviour towards staff was judged as “endemic”. 

Oct 26, 2018
By Neil Root

The allegations against Julia Mulligan were first levelled on September 19, and a report published by North Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel Complaints Sub-Committee on October 24 said staff felt they were subject to “irascible and intimidating behaviour” by the PCC. 

A former member of Ms Mulligan’s staff, known only as ‘AB’, with supporting statements from three other individuals, alleged they had been subjected to bullying behaviour by Ms Mulligan. 

AB complained that staff were also “anxious about raising difficult issues with the PCC”.  

The evidence given by Ms Mulligan, AB and the three other individuals was measured against the Office of Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) guidance on bullying and harassment. 

This led to the conclusion in the report that “this is suggestive, in the Sub-Committee’s view, of an endemic problem at the OPCC where staff do not feel they can appropriately challenge or raise concerns about the PCC’s behaviour towards them”, the report said. 

The committee also found that “the PCC did not provide the information necessary for AB to effectively discharge the role means that it was perceived that the PCC’s expectations were at times unreasonable”. 

It found no evidence of “victimisation on the part of the PCC”, but the evidence given by AB and two of the other people “corroborate the feeling of being ‘ignored’ by the PCC unless a stressful situation had arisen for the PCC or unless negative feedback was being given to them.” 

AB said the PCC refused to make eye contact and talked over them in a team meeting, allegations corroborated by another individual. 

There were also “multiple accounts of staff perceiving themselves to being subjected to frequently irascible and intimidating behaviour by the PCC” and the Complaints Sub-Committee found these allegations “sufficient to demonstrate a misuse of power or position and an overbearing approach to supervision of staff”. 

But Ms Mulligan told the sub-committee that she may have intervened in AB’s role and work in a way which has been perceived by AB to be undermining, but for the PCC this was born of frustration that AB was not providing the support required or expected. 

However, the report states that the Sub-Committee was concerned at the manner in which potential frustrations appear to have been handled at times by the PCC. 

 The Complaints Sub-Committee were very careful to delineate between a deliberate intent to bully others and someone who has demonstrated behaviours which are perceived to be bullying in nature. It recommends “actions should be taken for the PCC to help develop a more appropriate and supportive culture within the OPCC”. 

The sub-committee said it has concerns regarding the duty of care given to the complainant and those individuals who provided supporting statements on the basis of what they stated. 

The report found that while Ms Mulligan had not consciously acted as a bully, she displayed “characteristics of bullying behaviour”. It also states that there were “multiple examples given within the complaint statements of the PCC reacting irascibly towards various staff in the office”. 

Ms Mulligan told the sub-committee that while she can be “challenging and difficult” in her work approach at times as PCC, but this was necessary to be able to “survive and thrive in the ‘male-dominated’ arena in which she works and to try and deliver the best service for the public”. 

The sub-committee, led by Conservative Councillor Peter Wilkinson, concluded that “the PCC’s view on leadership cultures is highly stereotypical in approach, based on assumptions around behaviours which she perceives to be demonstrated by successful senior male leaders in public office”.  

Ms Mulligan said that she was “shocked” at the conclusions outlined in the report, which she has 21 days to respond to in writing.  

She said: “I take great pride in the service my hard-working team offer to the public. It’s not perfect and there have been some issues, but they are a great team, who share my drive to support the public. I therefore do not recognise any ‘systemic’ issues within the OPCC.  

“Throughout this process I have offered to meet with the panel, so they could ‘investigate’ matters – no door has been closed. 

“In the spirit of openness and transparency under which I approach every aspect of my work, I again offer this to the panel.   

“To draw the conclusions they have, given all the above, is regrettable and disappointing and were there a mechanism to appeal, I would certainly do so.” 

The panel said it does not have the power to investigate complaints. 

Its report lays out six recommendations including that Ms Mulligan commission a baseline survey of staff, encompassing their “perceptions of experiencing or seeing bullying in the workplace”, and that this should be repeated at regular intervals, and the findings and the PCC’s response action plan reported to the panel every six or 12 months. 

Ms Mulligan is also recommended to go on a management and leadership development programme and to obtain a mentor who should be a colleague or in another senior managerial position to support her in her role. 

Ms Mulligan said: “On the recommendations themselves, I am happy to consider them, but I would need considerable reassurance that the matter will be dealt with fairly and constructively, not least on behalf of my staff.  

“The offer therefore remains open for the panel to come to the office and speak to whomever they like.”  

She said she would “pause and reflect” on the sub-committee’s findings. 

“On a personal note, since this report came to light, a huge amount of support has been extended to me, for which I am hugely grateful,” Ms Mulligan added. 

“People do not recognise the picture painted by the report, but this is clearly a time to pause and reflect, which I will do. However, on behalf of the public, I will continue to ask a lot of people, and I am sure they will continue to do their very best.” 

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