A controversy-hit police and fire commissioner has been tarred with fresh criticism that she has failed to implement measures to prevent bullying in her office.
Members of North Yorkshire’s Police, Fire and Crime Panel said they were dismayed commissioner Julia Mulligan had not responded to their “recovery plan” seven months after finding she had subjected staff to constant criticism, disrespect, negative comments, interruptions and humiliation.
Following a series of awkward exchanges between panel members and the commissioner, it was agreed the commissioner would provide an explanation for the delay within 14 days, and that she would set out her proposals to move the recovery plan forward and detail what has been achieved over the last seven months.
The panel’s deputy chairman, Councillor Peter Wilkinson told a meeting at County Hall in Northallerton the commissioner had agreed with the panel in November that she would follow-up on its six recommendations.
The recommendations included surveying staff over bullying in the workplace, undertaking a management course, appointing a mentor and responding to the recommendations in 21 days.
The deputy leader of Hambleton District Council said he had written to the commissioner in January to highlight concerns she had not responded to the recommendations, but again received no reply, and that panel members had reminded her again in April, before receiving some brief responses last week and just hours before the meeting.
Coun Wilkinson told the Mrs Mulligan: “I have to express disappointment on behalf of the sub-panel that we issued this report in October and the first time we have had a meaningful response to the recommendations was yesterday evening.”
Another member of the panel, Paula Stott, said she had been “quietly optimistic” Mrs Mulligan would follow the recommendations, but her hopes “have been dashed”.
Ms Stott said between November and May “very little seems to have changed” and panel members appeared to question whether Mrs Mulligan was willing to implement the recommendations.
In October, in response to the panel’s findings, Mrs Mulligan, who has been the county’s commissioner since 2012, said: “To draw the conclusions they have, given all the above, is regrettable and disappointing and were there a mechanism to appeal, I would certainly do so.”
After being asked about the seven-month delay in responding to the recommendations, the Tory commissioner replied that with senior officers now in place in her office, there were now suitable staff to progress the recommendations.
She said: “I am disappointed as well. I had hoped this would move further on than it has and I am happy to respond and to set out the reasons why. It wouldn’t be proper for me to write the terms of reference myself.”
Mrs Mulligan said the panel needed to “recognise that the team has been going through a period of very significant upheaval and change” due to a programme to cut back office costs to save funds for frontline policing.
When asked again to specify why there had been a delay, Mrs Mulligan said: “There were reasons for that. Believe me there’s nobody who wants to move this on more than me. I share your frustrations at that. To be clear, you did not write to me, you wrote to the chief executive and that goes to those points about who does what in all of this. We now have in place the resources to move this forward in a way that is constructive and positive and at pace.”
Ms Stott said it felt “like there has been a bit of shifting going on here”.
She added: “Let’s be very clear. The recommendations were made to you, to you as the police and crime commissioner. There’s something about personal and professional responsibility around an area of serious importance to both yourself and your colleagues in the police and fire service partner organisations.”
Coun Wilkinson said he remained “mystified” why Mrs Mulligan had not responded as he had addressed to the letter to her and had received an acknowledgement from her chief executive officer.
Mrs Mulligan said: “I didn’t say I didn’t receive it Peter, let’s be clear. I was saying I was disappointed that we haven’t moved this on.”
Ms Stott replied: “I am disappointed that you haven’t moved it on.”
Councillor Mike Chambers added: “Let’s be clear. Where does the buck stop? Who is the police, fire and crime commissioner?”
In February, Mrs Mulligan announced her decision not to stand for re-election as North Yorkshire’s Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner in May 2020.
Stuart Minting , Local Democracy Reporting Service