Statutory repairs concerns ‘ignored for months’

The scandal involved repairs to both public and privately owned buildings. Picture: Colin Hattersley

The scandal involved repairs to both public and privately owned buildings. Picture: Colin Hattersley

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A SECOND key whistleblower who tried to lift the lid on the city’s property repair scandal was ignored by council bosses for months before police got involved, it has emerged.

The senior member of staff – an employee of the property care department – wrote a series of explosive letters to his manager highlighting serious wrongdoing within the council, yet his warnings were ignored.

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And the warning letters claim management had discussed concerns over individuals within the department over two years earlier.

It was not until six months after the concerned employee flagged up the problems that police started investigating the department, which deals with repairs on public building such as schools, community centres and libraries

Police later charged 15 people – four former employees and 12 associates – involved with property care with alleged fraud, corruption and money laundering.

Councillors today said the decision to “ignore” the whistleblower was “absolutely scandalous” and said it “smacked of a cover up”.

The Evening News previously revealed that an employee and a contractor – known as Contractor X – acted as whistleblowers in the property conservation department, which deals with repairs on private properties, were ignored by bosses.

A top secret dossier handed to the Evening News shows that the employee first aired his grave concerns in September 2010. After receiving no reply, he sent a second letter four months later. But it was not until two months after that, in April 2011, that police started to investigate the property care department.

The second letter spoke of concerns over certain members of staff, building contractors and specific repair work, including repairs on the Assembly Rooms, in George Street.

The whistleblower said: “Under the Policy on Public Interest Disclosure, commonly known as Whistleblowing, I wish to inform you formally of my concerns relating to incidents of fraud in the department.”

Referring to specific incidents of fraud and wrongdoing within property care, he added: “I believe that if PCS (Property Care Service) has a future the attitude of these certain individuals needs to be challenged more strongly.”

Ex-councillor Ewan Aitken, who was one of the first to air concerns about the property departments, called the latest revelation an “absolute scandal”. He said: “It is outrageous that so many people have been badly affected by the actions of a few individuals who were incompetent, or worse. Ignoring these whistleblowers was a deliberate act. It is a cover up. This is an absolute scandal.”

A key whistleblower, who worked in the property conservation department, said bosses had clearly buried their heads in the sand. He said: “The bottom line is, from a property conservation point of view, they would rather shoot the messengers than deal with actual problems.”

A second well-placed source who works for the council revealed: “There’s no doubt they knew long, long before any investigations started – it is rotten to the core.

“Some council workers are terrified of speaking up, and is it any wonder? When they [the whistleblowers] first brought up these issues they were belittled and ignored.”

A council spokesman said it would be inappropriate to comment about the scandal because charges have been made and proceedings are live.

‘HOTLINE WOULD HAVE PREVENTED PROPERTY SCANDAL’

PETER Gregson, who is campaigning for a whistleblowing hotline within the council, said a dedicated channel would have prevented the property scandal from ever have occurring.

He said: “Any worker at the council needs a means of raising issues of mismanagement.

“The whistleblowing policy they are proposing at the moment isn’t substantial.

“The Public Interest Disclosure Policy needs to be overhauled, and workers need access to a proper, independent whistleblowing hotline because it is hard to know where the rot stops. It is hard to know who to turn to with these issues.”

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