Police and crime commissioner Julia Mulligan told to address bullying behaviour

North Yorkshire's police and crime commissioner Julia Mulligan.

A police and crime commissioner accused of humiliating and constantly criticising her staff has been urged to address “an endemic issue around the perception of bullying” in her office.

While North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Julia Mulligan said the outcome of the complaints was “disappointing”, former members of her staff welcomed the recommendation by the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel.

Following the report’s publication, two of the complainants said the providing evidence “had been very stressful for all of us” and had “required us to reopen old wounds and in some cases revisit the sleepless nights, anxiety and depression – experiences we would sooner forget”.

The ex-staff members said: “If Julia takes on board the recommendations of the Police and Crime Panel – if she genuinely applies herself to training and mentoring and becomes a better leader as a result – then our struggle will not have been in vain.

“Our desire is that Julia – who has national responsibilities for police ethics – now effects real change within her working practice, so that no other member of staff has to suffer. If not, it is our hope that her party carefully considers whether she is really the person they want to represent them in future elections.

“However, if she rejects the recommendations, she will put a spotlight on the short leash Police and Crime Commissioners’ hold over those appointed to keep them in check.”

The panel’s complaints sub-committee heard allegations Mrs Mulligan had demonstrated consistent disrespect for one of the complainants, by interrupting, making negative and humiliating comments and avoiding eye contact.

The sub-committee concluded there was sufficient evidence from four statements by former staff to suggest “the perception of constant criticism formed a key feature of the working environment” for some staff in Mrs Mulligan’s office.

It said Mrs Mulligan responded to the complaints by challenging the competency of the main complainant and two of the other individuals
providing supporting statements.

However, the sub-committee, led by Hambleton District Council deputy leader Councillor Peter Wilkinson, heard accounts of staff perceiving
themselves to being subjected to frequently “irascible and intimidating behaviour” by Mrs Mulligan was “sufficient to demonstrate a misuse of power or position and an overbearing approach to supervision of staff”.

The sub-committee report said while Mrs Mulligan had reflected she could be be “challenging and difficult”, she considered that to be “part and parcel of being able to survive and thrive in the ‘male-dominated’ arena in which she works”.

The sub-committee countered that “the ability to demonstrate a calm, centred resilience and leadership in the face of difficulty are essential qualities” for a police commissioner.

It stated: “No evidence was provided either within the complaint or by the PCC herself to suggest that the PCC had reflected on her personal approach to staff, or apologised directly thereafter, after having vocalised her anger or frustration towards the staff involved. This is a cause for considerable concern.”

The report states while the PCC may not have deliberately set out to bully the complainant, “the fact that there are multiple accounts gives cause for concern that there is – or has been – an endemic issue around the perception of bullying within the organisational culture, which needs to be addressed.”

It concluded: “The sub-committee is concerned that the obligations around this legal, moral and ethical duty for the PCC are fully addressed by her as a matter of priority. It is noted that this is an important consideration as the PCC is likely to soon be taking on responsibility for the welfare of a much wider staff base through the transfer of governance of the Fire and Rescue Service.”

As a result of difficulties the sub-committee had reviewing and deliberating on the case without investigatory powers, the Police and Crime Panel will be writing to the Home Office to highlight its concerns.

The sub-committee has recommended Mrs Mulligan regularly surveys her staff about bullying in the workplace and undertakes a management and leadership development programme, which includes emphasis on understanding the implications of Duty of Care in a senior leadership role.

It has also advised the PCC to draw on the support of a mentor and asked her to respond in writing within 21 days to the recommendations.

Mrs Mulligan said she had been shocked by the approach taken towards assessing the complaints and dismayed by the lack of attention paid to the evidence she provided.

She added: “PCCs are by law not responsible for line management of any staff – they are a ‘legislative island’. However, as an individual, I take my duty of care to my staff extremely seriously. It is therefore unfortunate that the panel has not recognised the difference between myself as a person, and that of the legal office I hold. Nor have they acknowledged the significant attempts I made to ensure staff were supported, to the point where I overstepped my remit and personally attempted to intervene to better support them.”

“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.

“People do not recognise the picture painted by the report, but this is clearly a time to pause and reflect, which I will do.”