WIGAN town hall unions joined forces with a council boss today to warn against politically-motivated attacks on the authority’s officers.
They spoke out after the Evening Post exclusively revealed that Lib Dem Councillor Robert Bleakley was facing a police fraud probe after altering an officer’s council email to smear a long-serving director of economy Steve Normington.
The councillor is said to have intended to portray the head of planning and development as favouring the ruling Labour hierarchy at the expense of Wigan’s opposition groupings.
In a letter sent by recorded delivery to every councillor over the weekend, the five signatories including Unison branch secretary Stuart Fenton, David Hope (GMB), Gary Fisher (Unite), Alan Marley (UCATT) plus council chief executive Donna Hall described Coun Bleakley’s actions in “forging” the email as “absolutely diabolical.” The statement continues: “We have never heard of such appalling behaviour from councillors.
“Even more concerning are Coun Gary Wilkes’ comments in the Wigan Evening Post article attempting to justify these actions.
“Coun Bleakley deliberately made up these allegations which could have resulted in the dismissal of two officers.
“Wigan Council has a great reputation but it has one of the highest number of standards complaints in the North West and one of the reasons for this is the bad behaviour of a handful of Members who vent their frustrations on officers.
“As the staff representatives we feel very strongly that this behaviour needs to stop or we will need to consider our legal position in defence of these staff. We have a collective duty of care as managers, elected members and trade unions and the actions of a small minority of councillors are causing staff undue work related stress and anxiety. This behaviour needs to stop.”
Unison’s Mr Fenton added independently that it was “appalled” at how some councillors were “treating and speaking” to the council’s members of staff.
He said: “We expect dignity and respect in the workplace and fully support the chief executive’s stance in supporting members.”
Standish Independent Coun Gareth Fairhurst said: “While I find Coun Bleakley’s action completely inappropriate and wrong it is important to stop this witch hunt against him by the council.”