13th Dec, 2019

Report into 'culture of sexism' claims at Stratford District Council rules 'unfair'

NO EVIDENCE has been found to support claims of a ‘culture of sexism’ at Stratford District Council.

A report, which followed allegations by former chief executive Isabel Edgar Briancon in a damning Facebook post, ruled the claims were ‘unfair’.

Ms Edgar Briancon claimed she was told to be more ‘chatty’ at an appraisal, and then told by a councillor she needed to ‘throw her opinions around a bit more’ and it would help if she was 6’2 tall.

The post also sparked a separate investigation into the conduct of some elected members including Coun John Feilding and Coun Peter Barnes who were ordered to apologise after they were found to have behaved inappropriately towards female employees.

And a further investigation into the culture of the wider council has ruled many comments and complaints gathered from witnesses pointed to the two councillors.

Olwen Brown, from Anthony Collins Solicitors LLP, who produced the report, concluded: “Given the evidence I have considered, it seems to me that it would be unfair to brand the council as having a ‘sexist culture’.”

Another comment in the report read: “My belief is that both Mr Buckland and Coun Jefferson, as the new chief executive and leader respectively are genuine in their commitment to do what they can to make sure that the council does not have and is not seen as having a sexist culture.”

She went on to say it would be unfortunate if the whole council was stigmatised because of the behaviour of the two named councillors, although raised concerns the issue had not been tackled previously.

Ms Brown has made recommendations for ways to help officers feel confident in raising such concerns.

They included improving communications for staff about how to raise matters of concern, learning from other workplaces to improve procedures and a review into the current procedures in place of raising concerns.

She also acknowledged there were ‘very few women in the most senior positions’, but that she did not doubt this would be changed following a new management structure, provided they were ‘suitable candidates who were appointed on merit’.

She also recommended further training for officers and members on equality and diversity.

Chief executive Mr Buckland said: “The district council takes any allegations involving any form of discrimination extremely seriously and when we were aware the monitoring officer instigated an independent review immediately. I would like to thank all the staff and members that contributed to the review and also to the investigator for such a thorough report.

“Whilst I am obviously very pleased that the investigator has concluded we are not a ‘sexist’ organisation, staff can be fully assured that the recommendations arising from the report will be implemented in full, and I would encourage anybody who has any such concerns to come forward. They will be taken seriously and they will be supported.”

An action plan to address the recommendations will be considered at a meeting on Monday (November 18). Staff are also being surveyed on how they feel most comfortable about raising concerns.

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