Every council should have a whistleblower hotline

An Edinburgh council worker hands out leaflets calling for a whistleblower hotline. Picture: TSPL

An Edinburgh council worker hands out leaflets calling for a whistleblower hotline. Picture: TSPL

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I WOULD like to invite readers to sign my petition to the Scottish Parliament calling for a whistleblower hotline at each local authority that would report to a summit of councillors.

In light of the scandals around Edinburgh property conservation, trams and Mortonhall, council staff sorely need a mechanism where they can disclose mismanagement, misreporting and the unintended consequences of council decisions. These touch every aspect of our lives and staff notice first when things go wrong.

In theory, our elected members are there to supervise operations but they take their knowledge from corporate reports and base decisions on a senior officer’s recommendations. Staff are not allowed to raise workplace concerns with councillors: under the officer-member protocol, these can only be taken to management.

But what if management won’t listen? Workers who speak up can find their career in tatters. Staff get driven out of their jobs for making a fuss. But councillors need to learn about what is going on in the authorities they run. My petition calls for whistleblowing reports to be taken through an independent hotline and submitted to a risk sub-committee, comprising a councillor from each party.

Personnel issues can be passed over to the council monitoring officer for action. But issues that represent a real risk to the council deserve to go on the risk register for public consumption. The adversarial nature of party politics, where no single party will allow the truth to be buried if they can use it to electoral advantage, will ensure disclosures are never swept under the carpet.

A whistleblowing hotline for Edinburgh Council would cost £12,500 a year and I urge councillors to vote for this (and not a cheaper, useless “helpline”) when they discuss the matter on 29 August. If this had been in place five years ago, the city wouldn’t be now facing a £40 million property conservation bill.

If politicians are too fearful to implement strong whistleblowing measures, then their failure to hold bureaucrats to account will continue to poison our confidence in democracy.

• Pete Gregson represents Kids not Suits which campaigns to stop council waste and raise spending on children and their education. www.kidsnotsuits.com

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