An independent chair has yet to be appointed to take charge of the proble and a linked investigation into the council's handling of complaints against social work manager Sean Bell who was found dead at Salisbury Crags while awaiting trial for sexual assault.
But Tom Stocker of law firm Pinsent Masons, who has been brought in to lead the investigations, told councillors: "People are contacting us already."
The council is expected to issue an invitation to all staff to come forward with any concerns about the culture, perhaps conduct a staff survey, and also appeal for former employees and anyone outside the council with information to engage with the investigation.
Giving an update to Thursday’s virtual full council meeting, Mr Stocker said the investigation into the complaints against Sean Bell, which date back to 1998, was already under way. “The time it has taken to appoint an independent chair has delayed the investigation – that can’t continue any longer, we just need to progress it.”
He said the terms of reference for the wider investigation, which will be set by the independent chair in consultation with council leaders, needed to have “clearly defined parameters”.
He said: “Without that, this will become unwieldy, it will go on for a long time and it will be very expensive.”
Council chief executive Andrew Kerr said the independent chair would be appointed as quickly as possible.
Council leader Adam McVey said it was crucial the council's organisational culture was as open and transparent as possible and people felt empowered to raise issues, which were then dealt with swiftly and effectively. “I’m keen to see the process begin as soon as possible and for us to start learning lessons as a council from that.”
One senior official, Andy Jeffries, has been suspended on a "precautionary basis" while the Sean Bell investigation takes place. A 44-year-old woman who says she was sexually assaulted by Mr Bell claims she raised her concerns about him three times since 1998, yet "nothing was ever done". And a former colleague of Mr Bell's claims she blew the whistle on his behaviour in 2012.
Education convener Ian Perry said he had no intention of minimising the seriousness of the incidents being investigated, but he wanted to reassure everyone the council was not facing a crisis in the care of young people in Edinburgh. He said the council’s policies and procedures had improved substantially in the 20 years since the first reported incident involving Sean Bell. Independent organisation Safecall had been brought in in 2014 to operate a whistleblowing procedure. The council’s care services were inspected by the Care Commission in 2019 and rated very good and its care homes were also rated very good this year.
"I’m not suggesting we’ve got everything absolutely right but I think we can take comfort from the fact we have a fairly robust set of policies and procedures.”