Warring council leaders offered marriage guidance

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The Independent Online
TWO warring bosses at a flagship Labour council were offered `marriage guidance' counselling as a way to help them get on.

But the offer to go to ACAS, the Government's conciliation service, was turned down by Amanda Kelly, deputy chief executive of Camden Council, north London, an industrial tribunal heard yesterday. Instead, she demanded an apology from chief executive Steve Bundred before she would return to work.

Ms Kelly, 41, claiming sexual discrimination, alleges that she was bullied by Mr Bundred and threatened with the sack while male officials were treated more leniently.

The hearing was told that Richard Arthur, a councillor, stepped into this dispute after a breakdown between the two highest paid members of the council.

Ms Kelly had gone on sick leave with stress and back pain following a bitter exchange of letters in which she said Mr Bundred, 46, had treated her like "a naughty schoolgirl".

She said women were surrounded by an aggressive male culture at the council and a complaint three years before that she was groped by an official during a weekend conference was not treated seriously.

Mr Arthur wrote to Ms Kelly, a solicitor, suggesting that a woman counsellor at ACAS might help both sides work it out.

Ms Kelly, a mother of two, referred to the letter as cynical and containing a number of unacceptable suggestions.

She said "Suggesting a `marriage guidance' process between me and Steve - it appeared to me to be totally dismissing the contents of the letters."

She wrote back through her solicitor demanding an apology from Mr Bundred, a one-off payment of pounds 5,000 and to be made head of her own department.

The council wrote back turning down her suggestions but offering to make her head of Leisure Resources.

Ms Kelly complained that she was not given enough corporate responsibility.

Mr Bundred had questioned her judgment and she had been asked by him why she had not sacked a female employee at a disciplinary hearing.

Male colleagues were not treated in the same way and she had felt bullied by her boss.

She said the head of a department was allowed to leave with a six months' pay-off after one of his staff was arrested for serious fraud which he had not detected.

"It seems he was given a nice easy way out of the council despite a huge fraud being perpetrated," she told the hearing.

In her case, she claimed she was threatened with dismissal "on the basis of matters I have still to understand".

She said: "The men are either being paid off or have no action taken, and I have been treated completely differently."

Ms Kelly said it had also been suggested that she be "re-energised" by being seconded to another authority, perhaps a government department to draft legislation. She condemned this as being a Victorian solution.

She said: "A friend of mine likened it to trying to bundle an unmarried daughter off to an asylum after she became pregnant."

Camden and Mr Bundred deny sexual discrimination.

The two executives are working together pending the results of the hearing. The tribunal was adjourned until tomorrow.