Southampton City Council Children’s Services Department has been found by an independent investigation to have fostered a ‘culture of fear’ and allowed senior managers to override practice decisions taken in children’s best interests.
Southampton is not alone. The same report could have been written about many local authorities in Britain today. Cash-strapped and overstretched, managers resort to coercion and oppression to get the job done. The victims are children (service users) and frontline staff.
It is not good enough. No, it is unacceptable!
One of the most telling findings in Malcom Newsam’s report is that Southampton Council fostered a culture of fear in children’s services.
He found the following:
- “An expressed fear of speaking out- this included highlighting errors, challenging tactics, offering a different opinion to some leaders
- “The current working environment is chaotic. It was described as a blame culture
- “Communication at all levels was considered to be ineffective and uncoordinated
- “There was a strong sense of a top down imposition. A high number of the problems and challenges were known about and had been reported however it was considered the front-line staff were not engaged openly or respectfully by some senior leaders
- “The style, tone and timeliness of communication from the leadership team or insome instances the lack of it has created resentment confusion and anxiety.”
This is not just bad management practice, it is dangerous management practice. Silencing dissent and blaming hapless individuals results in only one thing: employees who are too frightened to speak out when things go wrong. Organisations which allow those conditions to develop and persist will eventually discover, too late, that the latent conditions for disaster have been developing unreported because the people who knew – frontline staff – were assured that they would not be listened to and blamed for raising concerns.