Publication of KC report into toxic culture at City Clean

What happens at the Hollingdean City Clean depot affects everyone across Brighton and Hove, because this is the centre of the city’s rubbish and recycling services. So Aileen McColgan KC’s report into bullying and harassment at the depot makes horrendous reading – even suggesting that the problems could constitute abuse and potential criminality.    

Brighton and Hove City Council (BHCC) and the Police have responsibility for following up on the most immediate and pressing legal matters, disciplinary action and investigating any criminality. The abuse, including homophobia, racism and sexism referred to in the report, simply needs to stop. At the same time, it’s important not to lose sight of the urgent need to permanently change the toxic culture at City Clean.

I very much welcome BHCC leader Cllr Sankey’s commitment to accept “nothing less than zero tolerance to bullying, sexism, racism, aggression and intimidation within Brighton & Hove City Council.” I also very much share her view that there has been something wrong with the council’s relationship with GMB – one of the trade unions representing City Clean workers - and that this is a factor in the problems we have seen.  

The KC’s report points to some of the reasons why this might the case, including evidence of councillors from a party in receipt of GMB funding donations sitting on panels considering staffing matters, despite the potential conflict of interest created by affiliation loyalties.

As an MP, I have no control over BHCC or City Clean but as soon I was made aware of reports about the scale of the dreadful abuse depot staff had suffered, I raised this at the highest level within the Council. I was keen to press for action – in support of the fair treatment of workers and because I could see that dysfunctionality at City Clean was very clearly causing significant citywide issues, including for my constituents' bin collections over many years. 

Resolving the situation at City Clean is in the best interests of the city, and should cross political divides.  So I am worried by some of the comments I have seen and heard in recent weeks which suggest there may not be an opportunity for all councillors to have access to the full version of the KC’s report, which include the KC’s full recommendations, or any meaningful opportunity to debate and discuss it, within the parameters of what’s allowed on HR grounds, in a full council meeting.  

It would be a massive disservice to the workers who have endured bullying, harassment, abuse and violence for any issues which allowed problems to fester for so long to not be open to public scrutiny as part of the next steps.  

We particularly owe it to existing City Clean staff to get to the bottom of what has happened, so that there can be a lasting cultural shift. To try to make sure the same problems don’t occur going forward, we need full transparency and proper scrutiny, as well as for those implicated by the KC for past failings and problems to take full ownership and responsibility. A 2019 report into the situation at the depot was never put into the public domain and meetings at the Council discussing its contents were held behind closed doors. This had the knock on effect of undermining City Clean staff confidence to speak out about unacceptable abuse – and cannot be allowed to happen again. 

And whistle blowers must not be let down by BHCC again either - whether by the whitewashing of past failings, a repeat of previous dysfunctional and harmful relationships or key information and decisions not being open to public scrutiny.

Like 2019, now is a pivotal point where proper change is possible. The new leadership of BHCC has taken the first step by upholding  views expressed/promises made  prior to this year’s local elections about the need for an independently led KC report into problems at City Clean.

Acting upon the full findings and recommendations in KC McColgan’s report will pave the way for what should happen next - a new culture at City Clean and for everyone in Brighton and Hove to finally get the reliable waste collections they deserve.