Agenda item

Whistleblowing Arrangements Update.

Minutes:

The Deputy Chief Internal Auditor reported the following:-

 

1. The responsibility and management of Whistleblowing is in the process of being transferred from HR to Internal Audit;

2. The annual review of Whistleblowing arrangements had provided a reasonable assurance that they were operating effectively. Two of the four agreed management actions had been implemented;

3. Exit letters had been updated;

4. Employees could seek external assistance if not satisfied with the internal investigation;

5. Steps were being taken to enhance employees’ confidence to report issues;

6. Number of whistleblowing cases had not increased from the previous year.

 

The following points arose from questions and discussion:-

 

1. Councillor Stevens stated that he had spoken to staff informally and there was concern that the organisation could take disciplinary action against a whistle-blower. He noted that the Code of Practice on Investigations had been amended in April 2018 to remove the requirement for BCC to supply all the evidence in relation to allegation/s against an employee. The Chair added that it was important to protect staff from Managers using other means of disciplining staff;

2. The Head of Human Resources responded that the change to the policy was not related to Whistleblowing but was related to evidence being considered during a disciplinary investigation. There would be full disclosure of all information at a disciplinary hearing. The Director of Legal and Democratic Services added it was incumbent on the authority to have good evidence at a disciplinary hearing;

3. Councillor Jackson suggested that the outcomes of exit interviews be analysed for future consideration and highlighted the possibility of false allegations because ex-staff had nothing to lose;

4. The Director – Finance stated that last year’s staff survey had asked specific questions about whistleblowing which had shown areas for improvement. This year’s survey would test if things had improved. The results would be shared with members and performance tracked;

5. The Chief Internal Auditor acknowledged that there could be a difference between the perception and the reality of an allegation. It was important to communicate effectively and ensure that everybody was treated fairly. He highlighted that an external organisation would be commissioned to undertake the annual review of whistleblowing arrangements now that IA had responsibility for the function;

6. Councillor Stevens was reassured by Councillors’ interest and proposed the  Code of Practice on Investigations  wording be amended to read ‘in most circumstances will be provided with evidence regarding the allegations’ in order to provide the confidence to staff to Whistleblow. The Head of HR was happy to consider this and agreed that an update would be provided to the members of the committee in advance of the March meeting;

7. Councillor Mead noted that there would be an anonymous Whistleblowing hotline in place by 31 March. He believed that Whistleblowing should be the last resort by making sure there were other effective measures in place. He welcomed the good work done so far. The Director Finance reported that there were mechanisms in place to assess issues such as Risk Assessments and Stress surveys in relation to pressure and workloads so that issues could be tackled before they became problematic;

8. The Director – Finance reported that that the IA budget had been increased in order to provide sufficient resources to support the function going forward.

 

Resolved –

 

1. That the outcomes from the annual review of Whistleblowing arrangements be noted, and;

2. That the actions being taken to enhance the transparency and staff confidence on these arrangements be endorsed.

 

 

Supporting documents: