The City of Edinburgh Council received an increase in whistleblower complaints at the end of 2021, according to a March 7 article in The Edinburgh Reporter.
The council uses Safecall, an “external whistle-blowing service for staff to bring forward allegations of misconduct and malpractice.” Safecall reported to councillors that between October and December of 2021, it received “21 new disclosures.” In comparison, Safecall received seven disclosures from January to March, “eight from July to September.”
In 2021, Safecall received 48 complaints, which is “the highest annual figure since the service was introduced in 2014,” the article states. 12 of the disclosures were regarding “unfair treatment,” while another 12 disclosures “were to do with the council staff’s ‘general safety.’”
“Six were allegations of bullying, six flagged a lack of integrity and complaints were also made about fraud, policy, reputation, substance abuse and disinformation,” the article states.
Reporter Donald Turvill posits that the increase in whistleblower complaints could partially stem from “the publication of two independent reports which looked at the council’s organisational culture and whistle-blowing procedures, carried out by Susanne Tanner, QC.” The reports examined the conduct of the late Sean Bell, a former senior social worker. The report aimed to ascertain how the behavior of Bell, “who was exposed as a serial abuser prior to his death whilst facing criminal charges in 2020, went unchallenged for so long,” the article states.
“It was revealed that Mr Bell had been protected by an ‘old boys network,’” Turvill writes. In her reports, Tanner recommended that the council “review its sexual abuse policy and establish a dedicated investigations unit to look into all allegations in relation to employees of a sexual nature, domestic abuse, physical violence, harassment or stalking,” the article reports. Tanner included 50 recommendations in the reports, and the council “agreed to spend £10 million over the next five years” to implement said recommendations. According to the article, the council has said it is encouraged by the increase in disclosures to Safecall.
However, “a group of former council employees who have used the whistle-blowing service in recent years told councillors last month the whole process had been a ‘whitewash.’” Christine Scott, who formerly worked as a community programme manager at Castlebrae Community High and “came forward with allegations against a headteacher in 2014, said the scope of the inquiries were ‘narrow and restrictive in allowing the truth to surface,’” the article reports. Scott said that this “allowed the alleged perpetrators of serious malpractice, cover-up and corruption to remain unaccountable.”
According to the article, council officers said in a recent report that “it will take ‘some time’ for the changes to be ‘fully implemented.’”
A spokesperson from the City of Edinburgh Council said: “We are taking forward work on the comprehensive implementation plan which was agreed by councillors last month to improve our whistleblowing procedures and wider organisational culture.” The statement continued, “This plan gives us an opportunity to shape our culture and to be as positive, open, safe and supportive as we can be. This will allow staff to feel confident when raising issues and make sure these are properly investigated and responded to. An update on the progress being made will be brought back to Full Council in no later than six months’ time.”