About one in three people at the National Lottery Community Fund has witnessed or personally experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination, a government-commissioned inquiry into the grant-maker has found.
The report, which was commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport after it became aware of allegations of a culture of bullying at the NLCF, also highlights perceptions among staff that senior managers are out of touch with the workforce and “more concerned with empire-building than with supporting the core work of the fund”.
The inquiry, which was conducted by the conflict management consultancy CMP Resolutions and published today, is based on 65 one-to-one interviews and almost 300 written submissions from NLCF staff, totalling almost half of the fund’s workforce.
“Around one in three respondents have either witnessed or personally experienced bullying, harassment or discriminatory behaviours,” it says.
“In nearly half of these cases, the instigator of these behaviours is claimed to be a senior manager or an SMT or board member, and over a quarter cite the line manager as the instigator.
“Perhaps most concerning is the finding that 67 per cent of those who have experienced or witnessed BHD are dissatisfied with the way these cases have been handled and this issue attracted three times as many comments as any other BHD-related topic.”
It says people lack confidence in the grant-maker’s commitment to resolving these issues and doing so fairly.
“What is clear from the feedback is that there is a body of opinion that believes that the cultural issues that triggered this inquiry are still very much in evidence within parts of the fund, and that the fact that these have been allowed to continue casts doubt on the commitment of the SMT and the board to address them,” the report says.
Dawn Austwick stepped down as chief executive of the grant-maker in December after seven years in the role.
She was succeeded by David Knott, who was interim chief executive at the time the report was written but has since been appointed permanently to the role.
The report raises concerns about the experience of the fund’s senior management team.
“Feedback implies that not all SMT members are thought to be sufficiently experienced to fulfil their executive role, and the executive is also seen as too large for an organisation of 800 people,” the report says.
“The high turnover within the SMT has caused uncertainty and confusion and has contributed to a sense of ‘directionlessness’, particularly as the CEO position is an interim one, and has been for over a year.
“As a body, the SMT is thought to be out of touch with the realities of ‘the coalface’, and autocratic in its decision-making, at its worst more concerned with empire-building than with supporting the core work of the fund.
“There are also some accusations of negative SMT behaviours. While there were very positive comments about the capability of individual SMT members, there is a general perception of the executive as a distant body with very little understanding of what it is like to work at the front line.”
The report also says there is a lack of clarity over the fund’s operational independence from government and the extent of the involvement of the DCMS as its sponsor department.
Responding to the report, Knott pledged to take urgent action to tackle bullying, harassment and discrimination.
“The National Lottery Community Fund aims to have a culture that is fair, inclusive and consistent for all,” he said in a statement. “It was disappointing to learn that this has not been the experience.”
Knott said his immediate priority would be to ensure that everyone across the organisation was treated fairly and with respect.
“I will take immediate action so that colleagues know and can be confident in raising – independently and externally – any grievance they have,” he said.
“I will bring in an independent, expert organisation to improve culture and systems. I will ensure we train managers on how to handle and manage complaints and support everyone in how to raise a concern. I will deal with results without fear or favour.”
He said he would chair a new equity, diversity and inclusion steering committee that would publish a strategy setting out the specific actions, timeline and metrics to improve in this area.
He also promised work to develop a stronger strategic direction for the organisation and action to strengthen its governance,
“As the new chief executive, I will be working in partnership with staff, chair and our board to make the National Lottery Community Fund a great place to work,” said Knott.
“This will be in service of stronger outcomes and principles we expect – putting communities first.
“My pledge to colleagues is this: wherever you are based, whatever your role and whoever you are, you can and should expect to be treated with the respect that we all deserve.”