Council had 'truly toxic atmosphere,' tribunal hears

By Dan Peters | 29 April 2021

The Hammersmith & Fulham LBC director at the centre of an unfair dismissal claim had been working in a ‘truly toxic atmosphere,’ an employment tribunal has heard.

Rachael Wright-Turner was dismissed as director of public service reform (PSR) at the council while she was on sick leave months after being brought in to create a new department.

The tribunal heard that the politicians were ‘extremely managerial’ and council leader, Cllr Stephen Cowan, was the ‘fulcrum of the toxic culture’.

Michael Hainge, who was the council’s commercial director, described one meeting where Cllr Cowan called in all of the directors, including chief executive Kim Smith.

‘He was berating us, implying that we were all overpaid,’ Mr Hainge recalled.

‘It was a profoundly unpleasant experience.

'When you’ve got the leader of the council doing that it sets an atmosphere that truly was toxic.

'It’s extremely difficult for that not to effect everybody.’

Alix Cordell, who was brought in to work with Ms Wright-Turner on PSR, said there were ‘contentious relationships’ between Ms Smith and her directors, and she would speak ‘aggressively’ to them.

She said: ‘The impression I got was that, for some reason, she was insecure in her leadership role.

'I think she was probably under an awful lot of pressure at the time.’

Ms Wright-Turner said the mystery surrounding the high turnover of senior staff led to her describing the council as ‘little Argentina’ – a reference to the thousands of dissidents who were abducted by the country’s military dictatorship between 1974 and 1983.

Chris Barrett, who was working at the council at the time, added: ‘Other executive directors had disappeared overnight.

'A lot of people in that organisation feared for their jobs.

'The atmosphere in Hammersmith & Fulham was toxic.

‘I don’t think I’ve ever worked in such a disorganised and chaotic [organisation].

'We all knew the pressure Rachael was under.’

However, this week Mark Grimley, the director responsible for human resources at the council while Ms Wright-Turner was employed, said: ‘I don’t recognise it as toxic.

'It was very difficult politically.

'They [the members] were more hands on than any administration I’ve seen.’

The tribunal continues.

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