Bristol

Learning Partnership West: Boss left after 'bullying claims'

Nicola Burcham
Image caption Nicola Burcham left Learning Partnership West in May 2015

The head of a youth services firm left her job amid allegations of staff bullying, the BBC has learned.

Learning Partnership West runs job clubs, provides mentoring and support and manages adventure playgrounds in a £3m contract from Bristol City Council.

A dozen whistleblowers raised issues including concerns Nicola Burcham's leadership created a "culture of fear".

The former CEO, who quit in May 2015, said she had left "a long time ago" and refused to comment further.

She added the BBC's approach for a comment was "ridiculous".

'Freeze and squeeze'

Ms Burcham left almost a month after the whistleblowers approached the council with concerns about her leadership and decision-making.

The BBC has spoken to a significant number of former staff, on condition of anonymity.

One said: "She coined the term 'freeze and squeeze'. It would start with totally ignoring someone. Then excessive performance management and finally the person would be managed out.

"Appointments were often made with a heavy bias towards black and minority ethnics - particularly young black males."

Another whistleblower said: "She had her favourites. You were in and then out quickly. She was the boss. She could do what she liked. You couldn't challenge her."

Troubled backgrounds

While another told the BBC: "When she was appointed CEO, things changed. There was a culture of fear and bullying from her. She had her favourites.

"No one had a good experience of how they were treated by her. She was not a well-liked woman. She was a very unpleasant woman to work for."

The council investigated some of their allegations, and said the company was not always acting in the best interests of its clients - young people in need.

They found clients from troubled backgrounds were being funnelled into institutions run by Learning Partnership West.

Staff at the company were told not to consider other provision.

It was also alleged Ms Burcham bullied staff, and recruitment processes at the company were inappropriate - resulting in unfair selection.

Nothing illegal

The chairman of the company commissioned an independent investigation into these allegations, but declined to share the final report.

He did say nothing illegal was found. The BBC understands enough people felt bullied that something had to be done.

Netta Meadows, service director for Strategic Commissioning in the People directorate of Bristol City Council, said: "Last year we were made aware of some complaints relating to the management of the service and the council has provided support to investigate these claims.

"The council is confident that Learning Partnership West has responded to the issues."

A council report obtained by the BBC concluded the company had "turned a corner" under new leadership.

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