An investigation into allegations of bullying at Peacehaven Town Council has led Lewes District Council to formally request an action plan be put in place.
A report by private investigators ch & i associates was commissioned after Peacehaven town manager Claire Lacey alleged that the actions of three members of the town council – Cllrs Jean Farmiloe, Brian Gosling and Jackie Harrison-Hicks – had undermined her position at work.
All three councillors – two of whom have since resigned – dispute Ms Lacey’s allegations.
Lewes District Council’s audit and standards committee formally requested the town council puts in place an action plan to address the issues found, something recommended in the report when it met today (Monday November 19).
In its report, ch & i associates concluded that it was more likely than not that Ms Lacey had been subject to ‘unacceptable conduct’ and that the behaviour of the three councillors to Ms Lacey ‘leads me to inevitably conclude that there has been a collective effort to undermine her position with a view to removing her from her post’.
But the report’s author also noted that Ms Lacey ‘cannot be seen as entirely blameless for the current difficulties the town council faces’.
They explained: “I think it is fair to say though that while I have no doubt that the culture change her appointment seems to have brought about may well have caused individual resentments regardless of her manner, the consistent evidence we received is that the way in which she conducts herself has the capacity to generate discord with individuals both within and outside the town council.
“That said, the behaviour of the councillors towards and about her has been almost wholly disproportionate and disrespectful.”
The report concluded: “I consider there to be evidence of long-standing personal conflict and poor working relations between certain elected members and town council officers.
“In addition, I have detected a less than full understanding of the norms for officer/member relations and their respective powers and responsibilities.
“There is no doubt that this is having a detrimental effect on the individuals involved and the functionality of the town council.
“Further, during the course of this investigation I have been made aware that former officers within the town council have expressed concerns about the way that they have been treated both by members and the town manager.
“Whilst making no comment on the veracity of these complaints, the town council as a whole emerges from this investigation looking like both a poor employer and an unattractive prospect for anyone considering becoming involved as a councillor.”
The action plan should include conflict resolution training for both councillors and staff and the appointment of consultants to review the council’s complaints procedure, the report says.
It also recommends creating an ‘explicit, pragmatic and rational scheme of delegation’.
Peacehaven Town Council was formally requested to adopt these recommendations by LDC’s audit and standards committee.
During the meeting, monitoring officer Catherine Knight told councillors that the formal request for an action plan would be considered as an informal resolution of the complaints. This would be in place of a standards panel hearing, the committee was told.
Before agreeing to make the formal request, Lewes district councillor Julian Peterson (Con. – Seaford East) asked if further training and information should be made available for town councillors.
He said: “First of all I should say I think it is an eminently reasonable conclusion.
“Just reading through it, to my own mind, I thought a lot of the people were trying to do their best but it was being derailed by personal conflicts.
“One of the things that struck me is that there often seem to be problems in town councils. Do town councils know the right way to complain about somebody? I think a lot of the councillors got rather muddled up about what they should do and shouldn’t do.”