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Historic Scotland rocked by management bullying claims

A view of Edinburgh Castle, one of many ancient buildings managed by Historic Scotland

THE government agency that manages Scotland’s most popular historic attractions has been rocked by allegations of bullying.

Five senior executives have resigned in the past 18 months from Historic Scotland, which is entrusted with looking after cultural treasures such as Edinburgh and Stirling Castles.

A sixth senior figure, finance director Linda Ellison, is said to be on the verge of departing and a senior archaeologist is understood to be on sick leave with a stress-related illness.

Insiders claim the “overall culture” of the organisation changed in 2009 with the arrival of Chief Executive Ruth Parsons, who previously worked for HM Customs and Excise for 20 years.

Since Ms Parsons’ arrival, Doreen Grove, Head of Understanding and Access, and Peter Bromley, Director of Properties in Care, have resigned.

Historic Scotland’s Chief Inspector, Malcolm Cooper, left last year due to stress-related illness. Pat Connor, the organisation’s head of communications, took retirement with short notice last year.

The most recent high-profile departure is Deborah Mays, Head of Policy and Outreach, who left last month.

It is understood that two of the senior figures who left Edinburgh-based Historic Scotland, privately claimed that they were the victims of bullying.

A former employee of the organisation, who asked not to be named, claimed: “The overall culture of the organisation changed very significantly with the arrival of a new chief executive. A number of senior staff felt intimidated, bullied and side-lined.

“When this was reported to the human resources department, very little if any weight was placed on the report and instead those staff drew more attention to themselves.

“At no stage did I feel I was given any support for the issues I had raised.”

Ms Parsons manages an organisation with an annual budget of around £49m, a figure which is being slashed to £35.7m by 2014/15.

But an informed source added: “The reduction in senior staff at Historic Scotland isn’t about cost-saving because they are replacing them with highly salaried civil servants.

“Historic Scotland’s approach is incompetent, characterised by a complete lack of knowledge, skills, background and capability, and therefore totally ill-suited to fulfil the role required under legislation.”

A recent wellbeing survey of Historic Scotland’s 1,100 staff found that 53 – around 5% – reported some form of bullying.

Five of these staff noted they were “often” the subject of bullying, while two claimed to feel “always bullied.”

The report, by an independent consultancy, stated: “Given that the Health and Safety Executive promotes a zero-tolerance attitude to bullying, these statistics need to be seriously considered.”

A spokeswoman for Historic Scotland insisted that the welfare of staff is paramount.

She said: “As an organisation, we operate on a transparent and open basis and recently took part in both a staff wellbeing survey and the Civil Service Employee Survey, publishing the results on our website.

“Historic Scotland takes allegations of bullying extremely seriously and operates a zero-tolerance policy.

“We are proactively addressing any issues raised in the surveys with staff.”

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, moved last night to shore up confidence in the organisation, insisting she was “impressed” by staff at Historic Scotland.

She said: “Historic Scotland’s job is to promote and safeguard Scotland’s historic environment and heritage.

“Historic Scotland is meeting these targets: visitor numbers and income levels are at record levels, and important new developments are under way – the Scottish Conservation Centre in Stirling, the Battle of Bannockburn visitor centre and the internationally-acclaimed Scottish Ten digitising project.

“Since I took on this portfolio, I have been very impressed by the knowledge, expertise, skills and commitment of Historic Scotland staff, and the high quality and range of the services they provide.”

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