Edinburgh council 'trying to silence dissent' after voting not to debate damning report on serious failings at secure accommodation

The city council has been accused of trying to silence dissent after it voted not to debate a damning report on “illegality, maladministration and injustice” uncovered in its secure accommodation for young people.

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An internal investigation, prompted by a whistleblower’s complaint, found "serious failings which compromised the wellbeing and safety of young people" over a 10-year period up to late 2019. The report is understood to refer to inappropriate restraint, assaults on young people, abusive language and a toxic management culture.

The Tories had tabled a motion of no confidence in council chief executive Andrew Kerr, saying he had repeatedly claimed to have changed the culture of the council but new allegations kept emerging.

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But the item had not been reached on the agenda at Thursday’s full council meeting before the 5pm cut-off after which standing orders say issues must be voted on without debate. A Tory bid to suspend standing orders was defeated by 36 votes to 19.

Tory group leader Iain Whyte said: "It’s absolutely astonishing they would not debate what was clearly the most important issue on the agenda today. They are just trying to silence any dissent and the problem is these are very serious issues and for a number of us there is a real lack of confidence in the ability of the council to get on and deal with these things properly.”

Earlier in the meeting, former education convener Alison Dickie, who has championed the cause of whistleblowers and quit the SNP group earlier this year, told SNP council leader Adam McVey comments he had made about whistleblowers were “an absolute disgrace”.

A deputation on behalf of whistleblowers unhappy with the Tanner report into the culture of the council had claimed there were attempts to suppress the truth, insisted there had to be consequences for wrongdoing and said senior council officers had been allowed to resign rather when investigations were launched.

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Tories had tabled a motion of no confidence in council chief executive Andrew Kerr

Councillor McVey told the meeting: “I want to reassure colleagues following the deputation that contact has been made to seek additional information and confirmation that the issues highlighted were passed onto the police – these are serious matters and they don't deserve to be thrown around in an unfortunate way. They need to be with the proper authorities.”

And he urged the whistleblowers to make contact with the chief executive. “We have a culture at the top of the organisation that is looking to engage seriously with these matters and you will be listened to.”

But Councillor Dickie asked: “Do you honestly think they got this far without following due process, without going to try and shout to make their voice heard by all the different authorities? It was a disgrace those comments and you should hang your head in shame."

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She said changing culture was not always about money. “Sometimes it just starts with something simple like a less defensive approach and little more honest listening and willingness to act to ensure the truth and accountability.”

And she pledged not to be silenced. “I am conscious there are men in this room – maybe some women too – who would like me to sit down and shut up on this issue. Well I will not.”

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Damning report into Edinburgh's 'toxic' children's homes

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