Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

'Culture of fear' found in probe of North West Regional College

A damning independent report has uncovered allegations of a "culture of fear" and perceptions of bullying at the North West Regional College.

The shocking Review Of Industrial Relations concludes that it could take at least three to five years for these issues to heal, and only then if the will is there.

The college employs more than 800 staff at six sites – three main campuses and other locations.

The report – due to be made public by the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) on Thursday – calls for sweeping reforms.

Its author is Harry McConnell, an independent equality and human rights consultant.

The review was commissioned by DEL in 2012 following several years of problems in relations at the college.

The Belfast Telegraph can reveal that solicitors' letters have been sent after draft copies of the report were issued to the college's governing body last month.

However, DEL has denied that the legal threats were the reason for the delay in the report's publication.

A DEL spokeswoman said the publication of the report was deferred until February 21 "solely to allow consideration of responses from individuals invited to comment on the original report's references to them".

In his report Mr McConnell recommends a major "culture of change" at the college.

The report calls for "organisation-wide change to rebuild trust".

The report adds that staff views "suggesting low morale, fear and low trust, have been supported by many examples provided to me in interviews with over 50 individuals".

Mr McConnell said the 29 disciplinary actions taken against staff since August 2007 "seemed greater than would normally be expected".

The review also flags up instances of the college failing to provide, upon request from politicians in the Assembly and in Parliament, accurate figures for staff grievances and disciplinaries – figures which were later secured by Mr McConnell.

The new figures reveal there have been 16 grievances raised by staff and 29 staff disciplined since 2007.

Despite the widespread nature of the problems identified in the report, no evidence was found that they had yet had a negative impact on staff performance.

A spokesman for the North West Regional College said yesterday: "North West Regional College will consider making comment on this report subsequent to when it is published."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Employment and Learning confirmed that it had been planning to publish the review next week.

She said: "The review will be published on February 21 and will recommend a way forward to improve industrial relations in the college.

"The department will refer the report to the college's governing body, in its role as employer and, as such, accountable to the minister for all aspects of the college's performance.

"Any issues regarding the implementation of the report's recommendations will be a matter for the governing body."

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