Inquiry to be held on claims of bullying at agency

AN independent investigation has been launched into a series of allegations against the £160,000-a-year head of a publicly-funded investment agency.

Lurene Joseph

Leeds Council has appointed a personnel specialist to undertake an inquiry into a raft of claims, including allegations of bullying, against Lurene Joseph, chief executive of Leeds and Partners.

The move follows a formal grievance lodged by six council staff previously seconded to work for Leeds and Partners, which has received millions of pounds from the local authority to deliver business investment to the city and surrounding area.

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Another nine former members of staff at the agency have provided statements in support and public sector union Unison, which has co-ordinated the grievance, has said a further nine current members of Leeds and Partners’ staff would be prepared to come forward if Ms Joseph is removed from her post pending the outcome of an inquiry.

Leeds Council confirmed an independent investigator had been appointed but declined to comment further on how the inquiry would be progressed.

The Yorkshire Post has learnt it is timetabled to begin next week, however, and will involve interviews with council staff. It is unclear whether Ms Joseph will be interviewed as technically she is employed by an independent company, albeit one primarily funded by Leeds Council.

It is understood the investigation will be carried out by HR expert Gill Anslow with any final recommendations presented to Leeds and Partners’ board.

Leeds and Partners said its policy was not to comment on HR matters and it could not comment on the council’s procedures. A spokeswoman added: “The matter is being taken seriously.”

Ms Joseph did not respond to a request to comment.

Unison regional organiser Dean Harper said: “We are glad the council has now appointed someone to do an independent investigation into the grievance.

“It’s good that it’s commencing next week. Hopefully it will be done in a speedy manner and we will see what conclusions arise out of the investigation.”

Mr Harper re-iterated union calls for Ms Joseph to be removed from her position during the inquiry and said Leeds and Partners “seemed to be sticking their heads in the sand” by not doing so.

The grievance against Ms Joseph includes allegations of “systematic” bullying, failing to control finances and acting in a way which has brought “the reputation of Leeds and Partners, Leeds City Council and the city as a whole into disrepute”.

Despite the financial support provided by the council to Leeds and Partners, the grievance claims that Ms Joseph has “regularly derided” the performance of councillors and senior officers.

The grievance document says the health of a number of staff has been badly affected and that other Leeds and Partners employees have been afraid to make formal statements.

A catalogue of examples of alleged inappropriate behaviour includes claims “a number of high-level stakeholders have started to refuse to meet with Lurene” because she is either “routinely late for appointments” or does not attend at all, sending a more junior employee at short notice instead. It also makes claims about adherence to employment law and procurement practices.

The grievance says that if taken in isolation some of the instances could be viewed as “management style” but when added together and with inclusion of claims that some external organisations have received similar treatment it amounts to bullying.

A council spokeswoman said all grievances were taken “very seriously” and added “we don’t discuss individual cases”.