'Climate Of Fear' For Workers At Hounslow Homes

Staff were afraid to challenge unfair behaviour in case they lost jobs

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A "climate of fear" which went way beyond bullying, existed at Hounslow Homes which left employees afraid to challenge unfair behaviour for fear of losing their jobs, according to a report, which also criticised weak management for failure to get to grips with the situation.

The report into Hounslow Homes (which has now been disbanded, renamed and brought under the direct control of LBH ) will be discussed at a meeting of the Audit Committee tomorrow (Thursday December 11th) where councillors will hear that labour and materials were also misappropriated by senior staff for personal use.

The report estimates several thousands of pounds was lost to the organisation from the use of labour and publicly funded materials for this work.

Hounslow Homes was responsible for management of housing within the borough and was the subject of an investigation after alleged fraud within the organisation.

Though four (now former) employees were arrested following an internal inquiry, there was no further action taken by the Crown Prosecution Service due to lack of evidence. Hounslow Council blamed a mishandling of the fraud investigation by senior management at Hounslow Homes for the failure to bring prosecutions about.

The report, which is redacted for publication, has made a number of damning findings. It was "an unwritten rule" that it was not advisable to "rock the boat" about the misconduct. Those who resisted unfair or unreasonable behaviour by (unnamed senior officials) found themselves to be "former employees".

Agency operatives were most vulnerable to having their work terminated but life could be made difficult financially for any operatives who were not compliant with the wishes of the individuals at the centre of the misconduct.

"There was a reluctance on the part of the organisation collectively to identify and repudiate the wrongdoing, a tacit understanding that it would be futile to challenge the status quo".

Weak and ineffective management was criticised for "very loose oversight", not keeping an ear to the ground or listening to staff concerns, and even defending actions and decisions against expressions of concern from staff.

There also existed a "web of reciprocity" in relation to the private work being carried out. Neither managers nor trade unions within the Direct Labour Organisation ( DLO) based at Ashmead, fulfilled their responsibility to report and challenge the misconduct that many were aware was taking place.

The report believed that financial losses to Hounslow Homes due to the misconduct could have existed as far back as 2005 but email accounts had been wiped out and they had been unable to examine mobile phone accounts.

The officials at the centre of the misconduct also accepted free tickets to rugby matches at Twickenham without declaring them as gifts in line with policy, and they also hired family and friends, which was against employment policy.

Their alleged misdeeds, dating back as far as 2005, were exposed by a whistle-blower in June 2013.

The report concludes that many employees suffered detriment through bullying, sexual harassment and victimisation for challenging and questioning the behaviour of those officials and the organisation had seemed powerless to do anything.

You can read the report in full here

December 9, 2014