AN investigation is underway at a Scottish council following claims staff self-harmed and had suicidal thoughts while suffering bullying and harassment by bosses.

The Scottish Government has been asked to intervene in the probe at East Dunbartonshire Council amid fears workers have lost “trust and confidence” in those responsible for carrying it out.

The investigation, which has been ongoing for a year, centres on the local authority’s social services department and was prompted by a letter from “concerned workers”, sent out to various parties last September.

The letter raises serious concerns about staff being “subjected to daily bouts of bullying and intimidation” by management.

It states: “There are a number of workers who have become so ill mentally due to the treatment from their managers that it has caused marriage and relationship breakdowns, individuals becoming physically unwell, and others using alcohol and prescription drugs as a coping mechanism.

“Staff are being told that nothing will change and if they do not like it, they can leave. I am aware that [staff] have seriously had suicidal thoughts it’s so unbearable and others have self-harmed and still the bullying and intimidation continues at unprecedented levels.”

It is understood that a significant number of employees have since come forward with information, including claims of poor practice within the department which is said to be placing vulnerable children and adults at risk.

The council confirmed an investigation is underway at the department, part of East Dunbartonshire Health and Social Care Partnership, and said the health and wellbeing of staff and clients “remains paramount”.

However, trade union UNISON, which is representing some of those who have come forward in the investigation, said it believes the probe has been “compromised” and expressed frustration at the length of time it has taken.

Union officials have now written to health secretary Jeane Freeman appealing for an independent review of the claims.

It is understood that Iona Colvin, the Scottish Government’s chief social work adviser, has been asked to compile a report for Ms Freeman who will then decide which course of action to take.

Simon MacFarlane, regional organiser for UNISON, one of the parties to receive the initial letter, said: “When the investigation began in early November last year, a number of our members came forward with information. But it has since gone very, very quiet. We’ve been pushing for an update for months.

“We’re very concerned about the way the investigation has been conducted, and we have good reason to believe that it has been compromised. So for these reasons, we took the decision last week to write to Jeane Freeman, Iona Colvin, the Care Inspectorate and the SSSC.

Glasgow Times: Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman

“We’re looking for an external person to restore trust and confidence in the process and we’ve used the specific example of the Sturrock review in NHS Highland as an example of how this could be done.

He added: “It was very alarming to receive this letter. These are very serious issues that need robust investigation. It is in everyone’s interest that this happens.

“But we’re a year down the line now and people are losing trust and confidence in the investigation.”

The UNISON letter to Ms Freeman states that while the Covid-19 crisis will have had an impact on the length of the investigation, “the council have been able to progress a range of employment cases throughout the pandemic”.

The letter also states: “The lives of vulnerable children and service users are at stake here. The toll on workers has been immeasurable and can’t continue. We call on you to act swiftly by stepping in to provide the essential trust and confidence about the objectivity, robustness and safety of the process by appointing an external person.”

Ann Davie, the council's depute chief executive for Education, People & Business, said: "The council's investigation, relating to a number of issues raised within East Dunbartonshire Health and Social Care Partnership's Social Work Services, commenced in late 2019.

"Our investigation is following robust council procedures and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time, except to reaffirm that the health and wellbeing of all our clients and employees remains paramount."