Seagull Weekly Briefing 16/10

Landlord prosecution, fountain restitution, councillor award nomination and more.

Seagull Weekly Briefing 16/10
Source: The Brighton Seagull

Good morning, and welcome to the Brighton Seagull's Weekly Briefing. Team Seagull is ill! And yet we're still getting this in your inbox for 7am, aren't we good to you? This week's briefing is brought to you through the magic of Day and Night Nurse, cups of tea, and our wonderful friend Aisling who kept us loaded up with Lemsip Max Day & Night (ed: other cold and flu tablets are available), painkillers and soup.

News This Week

Initial report into serious whistleblowing allegations at Cityclean show abuse has been normalised since 2017

Source: The Brighton Seagull

The council has been presented with a report detailing initial findings into whistleblowing complaints about the behaviour and working culture within Cityclean, the council’s waste service.

The report, which describes the 'appalling behaviour' as 'well-founded', said there were complaints of:

  • Shouting and/or swearing at and/or threatening staff
  • Acting in a physically aggressive way, making implicit and explicit threats to use physical violence and in fact using such violence
  • Racially harassing members of staff including by racist name calling and graffiti
  • Sexually harassing women staff and managers
  • Harassing gay staff including by ‘catfishing’ them
  • And referring to managers with racist, misogynistic and offensive words that we cannot share here

It's clear from the report, written independently by Aileen McColgan KC, that racism, sexism and homophobia, swearing, shouting and threatening behaviour are routine at Cityclean—allegations which the council say they are taking 'with the most extreme seriousness'.

The full report is expected to be published before the end of this month, but a four-page summary published on Thursday shares that 'by 2017, bullying behaviours had become normalised'.

Bullying is alleged to have been exacerbated after the threat of industrial action in 2019, and from alleged anti-union bias from management.

Despite anti-trade union claims, Aileen McColgan KC wrote:

I found no evidence that any of the managers I spoke to were hostile to trade unions. Many, perhaps a majority, identified themselves to me as trade union members.

One Cityclean staff member shared that they had been subject to racist name calling by their colleagues, his truck regularly being defaced with racist graffiti in the depot; a manager spoke about the 'very misogynistic' culture which she felt she had to put up with because of the potential risks of challenging it.

The report adds:

A number of witnesses said that much of the criticism aimed at women in senior management was related to the fact that they were women.

One witness spoke of a culture of racism, homophobia and sexism and told me that a group of loaders (bin collectors) ‘catfished’ gay staff on Grindr.

One witness, who told me that he was gay, found himself the subject of homophobic ‘banter’ while another said that a lot of people on refuse had refused to work with him because he was gay.

Other workers shared experiencing explicit threats of violence, staff being that they did not need to attend mandatory diversity training, and someone telling a manager that even if they left the council, the individual would follow them, find them and make sure they never got another job.

Aileen McColgan KC has made a number of recommendations to change the behaviour and working culture, including disciplinary action against some individuals.

Council chief executive Will Tuckley has written to all Cityclean staff today, reassuring staff that the necessary action will be taken to ensure the behaviour and culture at Cityclean changes for the better for all staff.

Council leader Bella Sankey called for the independent inquiry and ensured that an independent KC was instructed after becoming leader in May, following whistleblowing disclosures about behaviours at Cityclean.

She said:

I am deeply concerned by the findings in this report concerning the working culture at CityClean. It paints a picture of a service mired in racism, misogyny and homophobia and where a culture of bullying, intimidation and aggression has taken hold.

As the new Council leader, the buck stops with me. I will ensure that once we’ve completed necessary legal processes, the full report and recommendations are published and that we now take appropriate action to address the report’s findings for our staff and residents.

Every member of our valued staff has the right to work in a safe, respectful environment without the fear of harassment and intimidation.

The full report is likely to be published later this year following legal processes.

Victoria Fountain return marked with celebration

Source: Jon Norledge, Fountain Watch

The Victoria Fountain restoration project is now complete, and its return to the Old Steine was celebrated on Thursday.

Councillors, community groups, local historians and specialists involved with the restoration project gathered at the Old Steine to celebrate, and to see the working fountain restored to its former glory.

The event included Brighton & Hove Mayor Cllr Jackie O’Quinn cutting the ribbon, a blessing with members of Fountain International and a special performance by The Wellington Wailers Sea Shanty group.

Experts who have skilfully restored the cast iron fountain and council officers who managed the project were on hand to talk about project and history of the iconic Brighton landmark.

Work on the £400k restoration project began in December 2022 when, following significant structural problems, the fountain was switched off, dismantled and transported to Leicester, where specialist restoration work was been carried out.

Work included cleaning and repairing the cast iron dolphins, fountain pool, and 'egg-and-dart' moulding ring.

The fountain returned to the Old Steine in April for careful reassembly, complete with new electrics, pumps, water pipes, and lighting scheme.

Shaun the Sheep sculptures continue to be damaged

Source: Xavier Voigt-Hill

Stop damaging the Shaun the Sheep trail, gang: we know they look fun to climb on, but it's costing the hospice money.

Martlets, the hospice which has brought about the Shaun by the Sea trail, is concerned about the financial impact further damage could have on their work, with repair work costing thousands each time.

Some sculptures may not be able to be sold at auction at the end of November, if damage continues, where over £250,000 is hoped to be raised.

Tanya Hunt, director of income generation at Marlets, said:

We know the sheep look so tempting to sit or jump up on, but they’re not toys – they’re works of art to be auctioned with an essential fundraising role in keeping Martlets caring.

We are urging everyone in our community to spread the word of the need for our work, keep the Shauns safe and keep Martlets caring. Please don’t climb on them, don’t sit on them, don’t graffiti them. Instead, please donate to help us keep the trail live till 5 November for all to enjoy.

One sheep can take an artist more than 100 hours to paint, and a group of Shaun by the Sea artists told us they're 'deeply saddened and upset by the way that a few people have treated [our] work'.

To paraphrase Aretha Franklin, 'all we're asking is for a little respect'. Got it?

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🖋 News in Brief 🖋

  • Congratulations to Queen's Park councillor (and baby of the council), Chandni Mistry, who has been shortlisted for Young Councillor of the Year at the 2023 LGIU and CCLA annual Cllr Awards. She's been shortlisted 'for her dedication to community betterment… her tangible contributions, from securing fresh amenities for children's play areas to advocating for positive mental health, showcase her as an inspirational leader who exemplifies the spirit of dedicated public service'.
If you have a story for Seagull, please get in touch with our editor at [email protected].

Dog of the Week

It's just a bit of fun!

This week's Dog of the Week comes from friend of The Seagull, Aisling Murray. This is Bracken, they’re an 8-year-old Lurcher-Bedlington (but everyone says they look like an Irish Wolfhound). Aisling said:

They love big walks, zoomies, fireside cuddles, and showing solidarity to the underdog at protests and picket lines. They have a favourite teddy and blanket that they carry up to bed with them every night and they are always excited to make new friends.

The Big One

Source: Paul Gillett

What's happening? SB Lets has been found guilty and fined a total of £60,000 for 3 offences under The Protection from Eviction Act 1977, in a prosecution by the council.

Why were they taken to court? The council took action against SB Lets last year following complaints from tenants about harassment, which HHJ Judge Mooney described as 'abhorrent and vile'.

What did they do? The harassment included:

  • Threats by email and phone for the occupier to move earlier than they needed
  • 'Vexatious' court proceedings against tenants and their guarantors
  • Cutting off or reducing utility supplies
  • Entering tenants’ homes and rooms without notice or permission, and
  • Behaving in an intimidating manner

Who runs SB Lets? Shadi Baja—he's the sole director.

What happened at the hearing? Mr Baja appeared at Lewes Crown Court for sentencing last Monday. He represented the company, and had previously pled guilty to three charges.

What will the victims get? All three were awarded £8,000 in compensation to be paid out from the fines.

So how much does Mr Baja owe in total? Including £9,000 to the council in legal costs, the prosecution has cost SB Lets Ltd a total of approximately £119,000. Mr Baja has 18 months to pay.

Anything else? Mr Baja will now be expected to step back from any day-to-day operations of the agency, and put alternative management arrangements in place so that he no longer has direct contact with any tenants.

Any word from Acorn? Everyone's favourite renters union has welcomed the court ruling, saying:

We have dealt with a number of cases on behalf of our members against SB Lets, so we are not surprised that the court came to this ruling. We congratulate those tenants and ACORN members who have stood up to SB Lets, as well as the hard work of Cllr Williams on this case.

They're calling on the council to do more, however, saying they have 'an appalling record on prosecuting landlords, with only three prosecutions attempted in the past 10 years', nor have they enacted their 'zero tolerance' policy on landlords who break the law, which was voted on by full council in 2021.

What have the council said? Councillor Gill Williams, chair of the Housing & New Homes Committee, said:

This is an appalling case of unacceptable behaviour towards tenants in their own homes.

The council led this prosecution as part of our role supporting any tenants treated unfairly. We are determined take action to protect our residents from such abhorrent harassment.

There are many decent private sector landlords in the city, but we often hear from residents about their poor experiences and know the quality of management and maintenance is inconsistent.

We’re happy that the sentencing reflects the severity of the case. It sends out a strong message that we will not tolerate landlords and letting agents acting unlawfully.

What can I do if I need help with my landlord? If you believe that you have suffered from landlord harassment or been treated unfairly by your landlord, contact the council's Private Sector Housing team for advice.

What can I do to help? Please, please take part in the council’s new Landlord Licensing consultation—this will shape the future of rental property in the city and help protect renters from further exploitation.

That's all for this week—please subscribe, and forward to friends who might be interested!