Friday, 26 June 2015

Whistleblowing - a 'lack of committment' say the Standards Committee

On issue identified by the WLGA Governance Review as a key element of the culture change programme was the council's whistleblowing arrangements;

3.44 The Review Team also heard concern that the Council’s perceived culture of defensiveness risked undermining the Council’s whistle blowing policy and procedures. (WLGA)

In other words, the WLGA team heard evidence that the council sometimes operated under a culture of fear. No matter how many boxes were ticked in policy and procedural arrangements, it wasn't working.

The WLGA team referred to a report compiled by the Wales Audit Office in September 2014 which reassured them that Carmarthenshire's whistleblowing policy was 'generally good'.

“Overall Whistle blowing arrangement are good, with some exemplar practice, if addressed a number of very small weaknesses in policy, process and training will strengthen arrangements further…” (Wales Audit Office)

I am aware of readers and contacts over the past few years who would heartily reject the WAO findings of 'generally good' so I looked to see whether the WAO had conducted a broad staff survey.

They hadn't; the WAO review merely 'involved the examination of relevant documents and the interviewing of relevant officers'.

Maybe Carmarthenshire should undertake a staff survey, although as it turned out in Pembrokeshire, they might not like what they hear.

The WLGA concluded by saying;

3.45 It is important that the Council implements the Wales Audit Office’s proposals and, crucially, continues to reassure staff and promote an open and sensitive approach to whistle blowing across the organisation, and that whistle blowing features as a key element of the culture change programme

Given the fact that no recent survey of staff has been carried out, there is no true picture, and all we are left with are the 'very small weaknesses' in training and process from the decidedly narrow review by the Wales Audit Office.

The Standards Committee were tasked to look at these issues and since December, they have been monitoring training and awareness.

Even though training for managers is mandatory, by the end of April only 35% of staff, and 49% of managers had completed the module. At their meeting in June the Standards Committee wanted it noted that they were;

"very disappointed at the lack of commitment shown by staff, and managers in particular, to such an important issue."

From the horror stories I've heard over the years, I firmly believe that the culture of fear is very much alive and well and nothing has been learned since the Delyth Jenkins case, other than how to tick the right boxes.

I hope the new Plaid administration take a look at the whole culture of whistleblowing at Carmarthenshire Council and perhaps undertake a full and comprehensive survey along the lines taken by Pembrokeshire Council. Only then will they know whether the paper exercise translates into good practice. At the moment I suggest it most definitely doesn't.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a dismissed whistleblower, I think if a survey of employees was to take place, it would need to be extended to ex employees views on the councils practices regarding whistleblowers. The whistleblowing policy is top notch but council officers refuse to follow it and will come up with spurious excuses of why they did not. The Standards Committee Chair, the Audit Committee Chair has been made aware of shortcomings in this regard as have Linda Rees Jones and Mark James but nothing constructive has taken place in changing the culture which involves silencing the whistleblower and a refusal to investigate concerns/disclosures. Maybe someone from the council can get back to me with an update if the culture has actually changed regarding whistleblowing since last year; they know my email address.

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)