Fears raised by whistleblowers over council inquiry 'whitewash'

Whistleblowers whose concerns about policy and practices within Edinburgh City Council were ignored for years by the administration, have raised worries about an independent inquiry now investigating their claims.

Tuesday, 6th July 2021, 11:59 am
Edinburgh city council's Waverley Court HQ
Edinburgh city council's Waverley Court HQ

The people involved said while they have been interviewed by those leading the inquiry, written evidence they have to support their allegations has not been sought, leading to fears there could be a “whitewash”.

Council chief executive Andrew Kerr agreed to an independent inquiry into the administration’s "organisational culture” last November after concerns were raised about how whistleblowers within the authority were treated.

A concurrent inquiry is also looking at how the council handled complaints about the conduct of the late Sean Bell, a former senior manager in Communities and Families.

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Susanne Tanner QC.

Mr Bell was due to stand trial for charges of historical sexual offences before he was found dead at Salisbury Crags last August. It was later revealed the council had been contacted a number of times about Mr Bell’s behaviour outwith work, while concerns were also raised internally, but nothing had been done.

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Other whistleblowers who have raised concerns in the past also came forward to tell how they were unsupported, forced out of their jobs, or subject to campaigns of retribution, rather than have their worries investigated properly.

The inquiry led by Susanne Tanner QC is now supposed to determine whether the council has a “positive, open, safe and supportive” culture.

However some of those involved have said they are concerned it won’t go far enough. One said: “I was very keen for this inquiry to happen after so many years of what felt like banging my head against a brick wall. I have given verbal evidence to the inquiry team, but at no point have they asked me for all the written evidence I have despite my offer to hand it over.

"It does worry me that they will not have the whole picture of what happened in my case – and if that’s how I feel I am sure others will feel the same. This inquiry is so important it cannot be allowed to be just a whitewash.”

Another whistleblower said: “I have spoken at length about what happened. I have lots of information and documentation but have not been asked for it. It worries me greatly about how this inquiry is being conducted and just what will and what won’t be allowed to come out. It has to be truly independent otherwise no council employee can have faith in it.”

A third person, who has also given evidence, added: “I have given everything, including emails. I’ve handed it all over and if they cannot see what I can see then this will be whitewash. I would urge the inquiry to get back in touch with people who they know have written evidence and ask to see it.”

The remit of both inquiries was set with the agreement of the leaders of all parties on the council.

A council spokesperson said: “The independent inquiry will be taking into account what the chair, Queen’s Counsel Susanne Tanner QC, considers relevant in order to inform their report. If anyone has any concerns they should contact the inquiry team.”

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