Edinburgh Council- the Campaign for a Staff Whistleblower Hotline (TBU)


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Eve News 10th June: Edinburgh council whistle-blower line plan slammed

– and 13th June : Seeing the Way to Tranparency

.. where Gina Davidson, journalist of the year,  says: “Why not ensure that the scandals like the trams, property conservation and the Mortonhall ashes horror, cannot happen again by allowing staff to raise their concerns directly with councillors without fear of dismissal?”

-and 18th June: Leader not living up to manifesto

This great letter from Alison Bourne builds on the theme of….councillors who “have forgotten that they are the masters and the officials the servants”. Alison nails the problem – she notes that key Edinburgh Cllrs are insisting that whistle-blowing is an “operational matter” in which they cannot intervene.

This seems to spring from Scottish Government guidance to scottish councillors that

“Councillors must not engage in direct operational management of the Council’s services, that being the responsibility of the employees.”

The Guidance Document, paragraph 3.4, (page 8) was last reviewed in 2010- and needs updating to encourage our elected members to take full responsibility for when government goes wrong.

We are lodging a petition to the Scottish Parliament seeking this and a requirement that all Scottish Councils act. The Petition can be signed here.

Also see Cllr Rose’s Letter in Eve News of 24th June: [ddownload id=”1153″ text=”Download” style=”button” color=”blue”][ddownload_count id=”1153″]



Whistleblowing Policy Postponed

The Council Leader has announced he will now “continue” the Whistleblowing Report and remit it to the Finance and Budget Committee for Thursday 29th August 2013. He wants to “ensure that we can be 100% certain that there is no substance to the potential legal issues that are being raised”… The whistleblowing recommendation that was to be put to Councillors by officers is available from the Council here . See why Kids Not Suits think it’s no good [ddownload id=”971″ text=”here” style=”button” color=”blue”]

So who are the Finance & Budget Committee? The members are:

Councillor Alasdair Rankin (Convener)- SNP, City Centre; Cllr Bill Cook (Vice Convener)- Lab, Liberton/Gilmerton; Cllr Corbett- Green, Fountainbridge/Craiglockhart; Cllr Dixon – SNP, Sighthill/Gorgie; Cllr Edie- LibDem, Corstorphine/Murrayfield; Cllr Godzik – Lab, Meadows/Morningside; Cllr Griffiths- Lab, Craigentinny/Duddingston; Cllr Ricky Henderson – Lab, Pentland Hills; Cllr Jackson- Con, Forth; Cllr McVey- SNP, Leith; Cllr Ross- SNP, Corstorphine/Murrayfield; Cllr Walker- Lab, Portobello/Craigmilar; Cllr Whyte, Con, Inverleith; Leader (ex officio)- Cllr Burns, Lab; Deputy Leader (ex officio) – Cllr Cardownie, SNP

Thus we have 5 SNP, 6 Lab, 2 Con, 1 Green, 1 Lib Dem. That’s 15 cllrs, totally dominated by Lab/SNP.  An easy Committee for the Administration to control, at arms length. Tricky, eh?  If supporters know these Cllrs or live in their wards, let’s start lobbying them.


Summary of Concerns

The Council has announced the company that should be awarded the whistleblowing contract at Policy & Strategy Committee on 11th June is Public Concern at Work – and it’s a “helpline” not a “hotline”.

On 4th June, the Scotland Patients Association held a conference in Edinburgh about the problems NHS whistleblowers face. Their Chairperson, Margaret Watt, was scathing about the NHS helpline- run, KNS believes, by Public Concern at Work (PCAW). (Slated in the Scotsman here ).

It seems that what PCAW offer is an advice line for staff, when what is really needed at the NHS is an external reporting facility, a commercial hotline, that takes staff concerns directly to the governing board. If we are just getting exactly the same advice line at the Council, is this really what is needed?

And the new arrangements have not been discussed with staff. The British Standards Whistleblowing Arrangements Code of Practice was drafted with PCAW and can be found here . On page 18, it recommends that bodies setting whistleblowing policy should consult on the arrangements with staff, managers and any recognized union. Unison have been involved in Council negotiations-and they think the offer on the table is the best they can get. KNS have pointed out to Unison that the recent motion they passed on the “Free Expression of Concern” clearly states that staff should be able to blow the whistle to elected members – and what is on the table does not honour that. (See Motion 7, Page 20 at the AGM papers here)

And what about the 60% of Council staff who aren’t members of Unison? Don’t they deserve to be given the chance to comment on the new whistleblowing policy, before Cllrs approve it next week?

The difference between a helpline and a hotline are spelled out in the Code of Practise mentioned above. Council officers are recommending Cllrs back a whistleblowing HELPLINE- but what the staff and the city needs is a HOTLINE. This scheme is mainly to give staff advice on where to take their concerns. IT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

The proposed new whistleblowing policy on the Council website here states in Section 8 that “Disclosure to the media … may lead to disciplinary action against the Employee. “. As far as KNS knows, the Council can’t threaten this. The 1998 Act (at www.legislation.gov.uk ) states in para 43G that disclosure to the media is protected if the concerns have been raised internally and nothing has been done- or if the employee fears victimisation if he blows the whistle. Given the Council’s track record of maltreatment of the Edinburgh Lifelong Learning Project and Property Conservation whistleblowers, neither of these conclusions would be unreasonable for Edinburgh Council staff if they are thinking of going to the press.


No More scandals- E-mail your Councillors

Please send an e-mail to your local Councillors, asking them to make sure changes are made to the report.

To help you convince them why they need this safer approach to cut risk at the Council, copy and paste the arguments below into your e-mail.  Add your own comments- see why the proposed policy is no good [ddownload id=”971″ text=”here” style=”button” color=”blue”][ddownload_count id=”971″]

Dear Councillor,

Please call for your group to revise the Whistleblowing Report before it goes to Finance & Budget Committee on the 29th August. Tell officers to take more evidence from whistleblowers, staff, and campaigners.

The new Whistleblowing policy in the Report is based on the old Disclosures policy from 2000, which has been found wanting- the Trams, Property Conservation, Mortonhall and Edinburgh Lifelong Learning Project all attest to the problems staff have had in blowing the whistle. The proposed new Policy is actually weaker than the old one.

And the “helpline” proposed in the Report will deliver few, if any, benefits. It’s the same as the one branded by NHS staff as a “waste of time”- see http://www.scotsman.com/edinburgh-evening-news/latest-news/edinburgh-council-whistle-blower-line-plan-slammed-1-2960998

We need a proper hotline reporting, ideally, to a rep from each party from the Governance & Risk Committee- not just a general update on the calls lodged, to the Policy & Strategy committee.

And consultation on the report needs to involve staff and whistleblowers- not just a couple of Unison reps, who speak for only 40% of the workforce. The British Standards Whistleblowing Arrangements Code of Practice recommends this.

I want the politicians to take a role in the operations of the Council. I think it will help if those we elect know about the problems before they get out of hand. If the hotline is accessed only by senior managers I fear the problems might not be dealt with. Their track record is poor – and the city has suffered heavily : bosses on the trams and property conservation devoted their time to pursuing the mole whilst brushing the problem under the carpet.

“Shining a light into the dark places” of Council management will lead to better governance and more democratic accountability. Politicians should be the ones holding the torch.

You can download the full paper outlining the reasons why the Officers’ Report is no good at the www.kidsnotsuits.com website.

Yours sincerely

[Your Name], [Your Address]


Who’s my Councillor?

To find your three ward Clrs, use the website Write to Them. (It says it blocks messages you copy and paste into its form e-mail, but it doesn’t!). Always put your address at the end of your e-mail, so Councillors know you live in their ward.

SONY DSC Depute Leader and Leader.

To write to all 58 Cllrs at once,  click  here. You might use this one especially if you represent a group with city-wide interests.

EveningNewsLogoOpinion piece of 13th May, by the Petitioner :

Back, Don’t Attack our Council whistleblowers

Edinburgh citizens, horrified by the trams debacle, Property Conservation, mistaken school closures and the Mortonhall scandal must be wondering if there is no end to the bad news about the Council. I work there and I care about it passionately. I hate seeing its name in such disrepute and for most of the past year I’ve been trying to fathom a solution.

I think I have one. I started proposing a whistleblower hotline for Council staff to the Council Leader back in October. You see, Council staff always see the bad things long before the public do, and early action on these would be to every citizen’s benefit. But, on pain of dismissal, we are forbidden from letting the Councillors hear of these matters. The last whistleblower to do so anonymously was hunted down, disciplined and forced to pay £30,000 in legal fees to clear his name. I think we need the means to report malpractice without repercussions, which is what my hotline is about.

The Council Leader and I agree on the need for a hotline. Where we differ is how it should operate. I fear Cllr Burns thinks only senior managers should access the hotline. I think this is too risky.

If we look at what’s happened to Council whistleblowers in the past, we’ll see they’ve been hunted down and disciplined. I mentioned John Travers’ case above, which occurred when he tried to expose almost £0.5M going missing from the Edinburgh Lifelong Learning partnership in 2006, but what about the man sacked last year? The Property Conservation whistleblower has racked up £40,000 in legal costs so far in the run up to his tribunal in June. When he was suspended, back in 2010, the Director of City development assured Councillors that matters were in hand, when they weren’t. In 2012 he had to admit they weren’t and resigned, but we were left with a £40M bill. We need a safer system. My petition (see it on the Council website) seeks that only elected members- the people we vote for- get access to the hotline.

How would it work? Senior Councillors from each Party in office would convene to discuss the hotline disclosures. If all agree that it represents a risk for the Council, the Governance, Risk and Best Value (GRBV) Committee would ask the Monitoring Officer for a report and log it on their risk register, for the public to see. The report would subsequently be made public.

But here is the juicy bit. Before it gets to Committee, the whistleblower would have the right to comment on the report and highlight glaring mistruths. The Chair would check these and the Councillors would need to decide at Committee who to believe.

However, if the disclosure was an HR matter with no reputational risk, the Councillors would refer it onto the Monitoring Officer for action, as per the existing Disclosures Policy. If they can’t agree about whether it represents a risk or not, any one Councillor would be free to cascade the info to their own group members, and choose to subsequently table a motion to the GRBV Committee for debate. If it’s passed, it would then follow the risk register procedure.

To ensure whistleblowers don’t get victimised, a Chief Risk Officer needs to be appointed, whose job would be to train staff on disclosure arrangements, protect them and ensure investigations don’t turn into witchhunts. The union knows staff are being victimised. On the 7th May, Edinburgh Unison passed a motion calling for better whistleblower protection for Council workers, which would include allowing staff to report malpractice to Councillors. Present policies forbid this.

If citizens want to see an end to scandals in the city, I beg them to tell their local Councillor to support my proposal. Council bosses are about to propose their own hotline to Councillors. They have been told to consider my proposal, but they will reject it; turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. But they will only be increasing the risk to the city of future scandals when they do. I call on Andrew Burns to make good on his commitment to open governance and support my scheme.

This is an abbreviated version of a paper being published by the CeDEM13 International Conference on Democracy and Open Government. To read the full paper, click here [ddownload id=”638″ text=”Download” style=”button” color=”blue”]

Dave-anderson-1 Departmental Director Dave Anderson, who resigned from City Development over the Property Conservation Scandal (and the trams). [Eve News 21.11.12] He swore blind that matters were in hand and everything would be fine, even though there were those below them that knew this was not the case. But those lowly whistleblowers were silenced….

Date page last updated: 10th June

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