One in three people witnessed or experienced bullying, harassment or discriminatory behaviours while working at the National Lottery Community Fund (NLCF), according to an inquiry commissioned by the government.
A summary of the independent inquiry report, published today, called for a smaller senior team and a comprehensive review of the funder's board, including its skill requirements, remit, size, and systems for resolving disputes.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) commissioned the report in March this year, after an article in The Times newspaper alleging bullying at the NLCF.
CMP Solutions conducted 65 one-to-one interviews with staff across all levels of the organisation, as well as with non-executive directors. It also received 297 written submissions, including contributions from six ex-staff members.
NLCF's recently appointed chief executive said the organisation would take urgent action and will appoint “an independent, expert organisation” to help “improve culture and systems”.
The inquiry found that around one in three respondents witnessed or experienced bullying, harassment or discriminatory behaviours.
“In nearly half of these cases, the instigator of these behaviours is claimed to be a senior manager or a senior management team or board member, and over a quarter cite the line manager as the instigator.
“Perhaps most concerning is the finding that 67% 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,” the report said.
NLCF should train internal bullying and harassment advisors as a “first port of call” for staff, the report recommended.
It added: “It is clear that people lack confidence in the NLCF’s commitment to resolving these issues and also to doing so fairly. There is a sense that the odds are stacked against any complainant who raises an issue about a more senior person, and, slightly curiously, people are worried about the consequences of raising issues for both themselves and the instigator.”
The inquiry found that “there is a body of opinion” inside the NLCF that the culture alleged in The Times is “still very much in evidence within parts of the NLCF, and that the fact that these have been allowed to continue casts doubt on the commitment of the senior management team and the board to address them”.
It said that the NLCF has “more to do” on getting “the governance and systems in place to ensure that its culture is consistent with the need to provide an inclusive and fair workplace”.
Senior changes left NLCF 'directionless'
Dawn Austwick left NLCF at the end of 2020, having been chief executive since 2013.
The NLCF worked with an interim chief executive for almost ten months, until David Knott was given the position permanently last month.
Today's report, prepared before Knott was appointed permanently, said: “Recent changes of personnel at the top of the NLCF have generated a sense of uncertainty.
“Complexities involving challenging behaviours and the interpersonal relationships between board members was highlighted by a number of people. At the same time, the turnover at executive level has left people feeling distant from decision-makers and slightly directionless, and these changes have all generated a concern about the potential for more radical change to come.”
It went on: “We have concluded that the NLCF lacks a single, unifying culture, and instead tolerates a series of micro-cultures which differ significantly depending upon the skills of line management, their position in the structure, their distance from the centre, the length of service profile of the staff and a range of other influential factors.”
The report recommended that “a review of board remit, membership, size, committee structure, skills requirements, individual roles and responsibilities, and dispute resolution procedures is carried out, with a view to improving board effectiveness”.
It also suggested “a smaller executive team is formed with a clear strategic remit”. Furthermore those in senior leadership positions should be assessed team should be an “against a functional and behavioural competency framework”.
NLCF: We will take 'urgent action'
The NLCF pledged to act on the report’s recommendations.
David Knott, chief executive, said in a statement: “The NLCF aims to have a culture that is fair, inclusive and consistent for all. It was disappointing to learn that this has not been the experience.
“I welcome this report providing us with a series of poignant insights provided in June and July 2021. While the origins of the report related to historical allegations, the terms of reference for the inquiry were commissioned to be forward looking.
“In all, 41% of our staff have contributed to the report and I would like to thank all those who have done so. It has not been easy hearing this feedback, but without it we cannot move forward and progress.
“Bullying, harassment and discrimination is unacceptable, and will not be tolerated. Where it exists, it will be addressed with urgent action.
“As the new chief executive of the NLCF, serving all four nations of the UK, I am determined to act upon all of the recommendations within the report.”
To address the report’s concerns, Knott said that he would be bringing in “an independent, expert organisation” to help “improve culture and systems” at the NLCF.
He said that the organisation would also publish a strategy to address equity, diversity and inclusion issues.