'Fanning flames'

BrewDog chair attacks HR consultancy as toxic row rages

Allan Leighton and BrewDog CEO James Watt

City heavyweight Allan Leighton, chairman of BrewDog, has delivered a stinging criticism of a human resources consultancy that offered to help rebuild staff morale.

The Aberdeenshire-based firm has spent months battling claims of a toxic culture and allegations that co-founder James Watt behaved inappropriately, which he has firmly denied.

Even though it had not been formally hired to work with BrewDog, the Berlin-based Hand & Heart consultancy launched an online “affected worker registration platform” where staff were invited to air complaints. 

Mr Leighton has now written to the consultancy accusing it of making the problem worse and as a result said it would not be appointed to run a proposed ‘reconciliation’ programme. He said Hand & Heart was “amplifying” criticism on social media. 

The latest twist comes after a highly-publicised complaint last summer by 60 former employees calling themselves Punks with Purpose. 

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The company subsequently commissioned an independent review into its management culture and announced a number of initiatives aimed improving staff conditions and the firm’s relationship with the workforce.

Mr Watt has also complained to media watchdog Ofcom about allegations made against him in a BBC documentary.

Mr Leighton, who is also chairman of the Co-op and an ex-CEO of Asda, said in a memo to staff that BrewDog’s people director, Karen Bates, had engaged with Hand & Heart’s managing director Kate Bailey.

In his letter to Ms Bailey, seen by the Mail on Sunday, Mr Leighton claimed Hand & Heart, was fanning the flames.

“The unavoidable impression is that of H&H charging the company to extinguish a fire it is fuelling itself,” he wrote, adding: “We believe it is impossible for you to be a neutral mediator in a sensitive private setting.”

Ms Bailey has responded by saying Hand & Heart acted “in good faith” and accused him of making “unfounded accusations”. She added that Mr Leighton’s letter was “offensive, uninformed and inconsistent”.

She stated: “I do not work to ‘save BrewDog’, I work for the justice of those your workplace has impacted. I have a duty to respond when public accusations arise, especially the ones relating to the chief executive of late. If you’re looking for fuel and fire start there.”

It was recently reported that Mr Watt had hired private investigators to obtain information about people who he believed were taking part in a smear campaign against him. 

All this emerges as BrewDog considers a flotation of the business, with some believing it could deter investors and impact on the value of the company.

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