NINE in ten councillors say bullying takes place between elected members at Bracknell Forest Council, a report has revealed.

This is one of a series of revelations from a survey in which councillors were asked to give their views on the working culture at the local authority.

One councillor, who said they had been bullied at BFC, said the results showed bullying was an “obvious problem” and claimed if the authority was a school, it would be placed into “special measures.”

But the Chief Executive of the council said “bullying and bad behaviour is extremely rare in Bracknell Forest.”

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The results of the survey (which have been seen by the News) are set to form the basis of a plan to address behaviour at the council which is expected to be approved at an upcoming meeting.

35 of 42 councillors and 52 of 55 officers participated in the survey, which was conducted in April. The results revealed:

  • Two-fifths (41 per cent) of members that responded to the survey said bullying frequently takes place between members, half (52 per cent) said it sometimes takes place, indicating that 93 per cent agree bullying occurs between councillors. 7 per cent said it never takes place.
  • Almost three-quarters (72 per cent) of officers said bullying sometimes takes place between councillors and officers, 15 per cent said it frequently takes place, indicating that 87 per cent agree bullying occurs between councillors. 13 per cent said it never takes place.
  • A third of councillors said they have been subjected to or observed anyone being harassed by another councillor.
  • Three in ten officers said they have been subjected to or observed anyone being harassed by a councillor or vice versa.
  • “Most councillors have not experienced an incident of unfair treatment or discrimination by another councillor [...] overall about a third of councillors that responded to this survey mentioned at least one form of unfair treatment or discrimination.”
  • 58 per cent of officers agree councillors and officers work well together, whereas views about councillors working well together are more negative than positive with 27 per cent agreeing, 39 per cent disagreeing and 35 per cent in the middle.

These results led Pulse, the company that led the survey to the cost of £3,630, to conclude: “In general, there are positive working relationships between members, and members and officers.

“This said, there are examples and evidence of inappropriate and negative behaviour that sometimes becomes bullying and harassment amongst members and between members and officers, exhibited by a minority of members but experienced by several members and officers.”

“It makes you feel ridiculed”

Labour Councillor Mary Temperton, opposition leader at Bracknell Forest Council, said the report showed bullying was an “obvious problem” at the local authority.

She told the News: “From this report it is an obvious problem -- 93 per cent have experienced some sort of bullying.

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“If this was a school, it would be in special measures.”

Asked if she had been on the receiving end of bullying at BFC, Cllr Tempteron said: “Yes I have.

“It makes people nervous to speak out, it makes you feel ridiculed, humiliated, made to feel small. It makes you feel sick before meetings.

“Some say we should be prepared for the argy-bargy of politics and if you cannot put up with this, then you should not get involved.

“I got into politics to make a difference to my community, not to have to take on the fray at council meetings.

“I do not see the point of the Oscar-type performances by some at every public meeting.

“Surely decisions and debate can take place without this.”

The results of the report led to councillor workshops being put on in order to address behavioural issues at the council.

A Mayor’s Charter setting out how councillors are expected to behave in the wake of the results was set to be adopted at an upcoming council meeting on November 24.

But the News understands this has been pushed back for adoption until January 2022.

“It is important not to get this out of proportion”

The News asked Cllr Paul Bettison, leader of the council, to comment on the results of the report but was Chief Executive Timothy Wheadon responded instead.

He said: “Almost all political organisations experience robust debate and disagreement at times is an inevitable consequence of this.

“Sometimes the debate spills over into what might be perceived as bullying.

“The recent pulse survey has obviously picked up on something, but needs to be read carefully to understand the context as, generally, bullying and bad behaviour is extremely rare in Bracknell Forest, both between members and particularly between members and officers.

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“The number of people in the survey who have actually experienced bullying is, for example, significantly lower than the number who believe they have witnessed it.

“All bullying is unacceptable and we have robust processes in place should it occur.

“The very fact the pulse survey was undertaken to check on members’ perceptions in this important area shows we take the matter seriously.

“But it is important not to get this out of proportion. The actual incidence of bullying or overly aggressive behaviour, particularly between members and officers, is very limited and has seldom reached a level where anything more than informal resolution has been needed.

“However, we are not complacent and remain committed to investigating any allegation of bullying or inappropriate behaviour.

“To that end, we are looking at introducing even further measures in the new year to support the highest possible standards of conduct.”

There were also a number of positive findings from the survey, including that a majority of councillors (69 per cent) and officers (75 per cent) agreed their morale was good, four in five officers feel confident managing their relationships with councillors and that both councillors and officers agree in the majority the council provides them with adequate support.