SEPA

New bullying allegations at Scots environment agency

Staff at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) have demanded an independent inquiry into allegations of bullying and harassment following the sudden resignation of the agency’s chief executive, Terry A’Hearn.

The Ferret understands that early in February trade union members at Sepa made a submission to management claiming there had been a “culture of bullying and harassment” that should be investigated.

A’Hearn’s departure because of unspecified “conduct allegations” was announced by Sepa on 21 January. He has been replaced by Sepa’s chief officer, Jo Green, who is now acting as chief executive, supported by the agency’s senior management team.

A’Hearn’s resignation is believed to have followed complaints from colleagues but no details have been confirmed “in order to protect anonymity”. Similarly, no details are available on the new allegations because they are also regarded as highly sensitive.

Sepa is responsible for controlling pollution from more than 5,000 sites across Scotland. It employs over 1,200 people at 22 offices and is funded to the tune of £37 million a year by the Scottish Government.

The Ferret reported on 6 February that Sepa had lost information on thousands of environmental checks and pollution breaches over 15 months, as a result of a criminal cyber attack in December 2020.

Many Sepa staff are members of the trade union, Unison. “I cannot formally comment as the investigation is ongoing,” said the union’s regional organiser, Emma Phillips.

‘“I have been asked to respect the members’ privacy and confidentiality and wish to do this.”

Phillips added: “Bullying and harassment is clearly unacceptable. In any organisation there needs to be a culture where people can have the confidence to come forward and know their allegations will be taken seriously.”

One Sepa insider, who did not wish to be named, said trade unionists submitted “a group grievance alleging a senior management culture of bullying and harassment and demanding an independent inquiry” on 2 February.

The insider added: “The grievance was submitted despite the fact that A’Hearn resigned. He was being investigated for misconduct but the investigation was stopped when he resigned.”

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency stressed that it was committed to modern, progressive public services and a positive, open culture. “Our code of conduct is clear on our expectations of all staff and we take conduct allegations very seriously,” said the acting chief executive, Jo Green.

“We have a range of supportive processes and procedures to address concerns. We have and continue to work closely with Unison.”

She told The Ferret: “We support a culture of working together, constructive engagement and trust, including addressing concerns and protecting anonymity.”

Green reiterated that A’Hearn left on 19 January “following conduct allegations”. Sepa was unable to comment further “in order to protect anonymity,” she said.

A’Hearn is understood to have left without any financial settlement and without having to give any notice. In an interview with the environment magazine, ENDS, he declined to comment on why he resigned.

He said he was proud of his legacy after seven years leading Sepa, citing improvements in the environmental performance of the whisky industry and an overhaul of the regulation of salmon farms as examples.

According to A’Hearn’s LinkedIn profile, he is now a self-employed “environmental specialist”, and remains an honorary senior associate of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

Cover image thanks to Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

5 comments
  1. There has been a culture of bullying seated deep within SEPA for decades now ranging from Directors to managers and staff. Not all who work in management are bad or corrupt but SEPA need to act and get rid of those (bad apples) who are. [Redacted by moderators]

    Reading another papers comments on SEPA (HeraldScotland) it mentions “[Redacted by moderators]” If this is the case then the SEPA Board need to take off the rose tinted glasses and take a good look at themselves in the mirror. Why would anyone want to work for this company?

    As for Unison, what have they done – nothing apart from raise a grievance themselves. Their hands are tied or their eyes are closed to what goes on.

    Sad state of affairs.

  2. Redaction will apply to anything written about the reality of what has happened at SEPA in recent years. The departed Director has failed to account for the block he placed on questions asked about the scientific evidence supporting SEPA policy on the open state, sea cage salmon feedlot Industry. Staff were forbidden to discuss the lack of evidence allowing SEPA to ignore the detrimental impacts of using our sheltered inshore waters as a free open state bioreactor, for the disposal of the 60% of the feedlot sewage feed input. This makes many millions for the Norwegian Oligarchs who control the Industry. Why the detractions?
    is the Ferret feart.

  3. Having worked closely with Terry A’Hearn in the past, it’s hard to believe that he was accused of misconduct at SEPA. You couldn’t ask for a more open and honest person to steer your company through troubled waters, this of which he did with impeccable aptitude for the job. His integrity surpasses many of the Directors and managers who worked below him where the ill fitting allegations of abuse, bullying and corruption all stem from.

    It’s only fair and honest that SEPA should allow an independent enquiry to be undertaken. This would allow all those who have been wronged to get their voices heard and justice implemented where it’s needed i.e the bully’s sacked and made redundant. Staff could then build back their trust into what has now become a failed system where lies, sleaze and corruption have been allowed to ferment over the decades and erode away the very basics of trust from the staff.

    It’s bamboozling in this day and age how Directors and managers alike who earn tens of thousands of pounds in annual wages are allowed to get away with these despicable acts.

    The [Redacted by moderator] who gets paid an annual salary of £110,000 should be ashamed of [Redacted by moderator] for continually allowing these despicable acts to take place. This in itself is a serious failure and needs investigating by SEPA and the independent Enquiry board if one is ever allowed to be setup.

    Shame on you SEPA

  4. I know first hand. I was and many still are scared to speak out. I
    understand the situation and atmosphere to be worse than ever. The culture across the top and cascading down is toxic. Employees, some lifelong, have gone from enjoying their careers and feeling passionate and committed to feeling worthless with confidence at rock bottom. This was not just on Mr A’Hearn. Lessons are never learned.
    Something has to give.
    More will find their voices soon.

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