Helpline no use for Council whistleblowers

Dear Spurtle

Re: Your recent article (Breaking news, 5.6.13).

Kids not Suits* have, along with many other citizens, written to the Council's Policy and Strategy Committee calling on them not to pass tomorrow's Whistleblowing Report. We call for extra time for evidence to be taken from whistleblowers, staff and campaigners.

The case against is summarised below.

The Report states that the company to be awarded the whistleblowing contract is Public Concern at Work (PCAW) – and it’s providing a ‘helpline’ (not a 'hotline').

On 4 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 – also run, I believe, by PCAW. The service is slated in today's Scotsman.

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? This scheme is mainly to give staff advice on where to take their concerns, that's all. And they can get that by downloading the Council policy themselves from the Orb.

And the new arrangements have not been discussed with staff. The British Standards Whistleblowing Arrangements Code of Practicere recommends that bodies setting whistleblowing policy should consult on the arrangements with staff, managers and any recognised union. Unison have been involved in Council negotiations – and they think the offer on the table is the best they can get. I 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.

And what about the 60 per cent 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 it’s approved?

The differences between a helpline and a hotline are spelled out in the Code of Practice mentioned above. What's more, Council officers are recommending support for a new whistleblowing policy which, I think, is weaker than the policy it replaces. And that policy failed to stop early warning concerns from staff about the tram business plan and Property Conservation being dealt with, either.

Finally, the proposed new whistleblowing policy states in Section 8 that ‘Disclosure to the media […] may lead to disciplinary action against the Employee’. As far as I know, the Council can’t threaten this. The Public Interest Disclosure Act (1998) 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 s/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. Yet the new Policy implies they cannot do this. It threatens them for exercising their rights. And it is more likely to keep us in the dark as a result. 

An indication of our concerns can be seen in today's Evening News (10.6.13) in an article by reporter David McCann on page 10. More information here.

Yours sincerely

Pete Gregson
Kids not Suits 
(Tel 0131 337 2603 or 0758 472 2191)

[*Kids not Suits is a campaign group seeking better use of public funds by elected representatives.]