Your guide to whistleblowing in councils and local authorities
27th May 2020
Councils and local authorities have a huge presence in the lives of millions of people. They have access to a great deal of confidential information, and are essential to the smooth running of our towns, cities, and lives. In order to maintain public trust, then councils must prove to be accountable to that same public when errors in judgement are made, or inappropriate behaviour is reported.
With an increased expectation of transparency and the growing power of social media to connect people with institutions, whistleblowing and the investigation of complaints has never been a more important issue for local authorities.
Why should councils embrace the need for whistleblowing?
In some circles, the idea of the whistle being blown can still cause institutional panic. The extremely outdated associations are of negative publicity, airing dirty laundry in public. This limited viewpoint does a disservice to both employees and the public interests they are protecting, while also belying the enormous power for positive change that whistleblowing is capable of.
The reality is that making disclosures in the public interest can be vital when it comes to safeguarding the smooth running of services that the public rely on. What's more, an environment where staff are treated well and feel confident voicing their concerns is beneficial to an organisation’s reputation as an employer, keeping morale high and attracting new employees.
Safecall will work with you to set up a fair and impartial whistleblowing hotline and investigation service. Contact us now to find out more.
The importance of supporting staff
It cannot be overstated just how important it is for councils and local authorities to support any staff who raise a concern and blow the whistle. Any employee who does so should be applauded for having the interests of the public in mind, and for being able to spot and report clear instances of wrongdoing that will, ultimately, adversely affect the council's standing with the public.
Along with the negative connotations around whistleblowing, there still exists a fear of reprisals should anyone speak out against their employer, or reveal damaging information. To create a transparent, and trustable organisation, councils must show that this fear is unfounded. They can do this by setting up a complaints and investigation framework that not only provides anonymity for whistleblowers, but guarantees that they will be free from any personal and professional consequences while also carrying out a thorough investigation. Building trust in the process is the only way to make staff feel able to make these all-important disclosures and help the council thrive.
The importance of whistleblowers is becoming more and more clear at all levels, leading the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to call for an independent whistleblowing office in a recent paper. You can read the APPG's report here.
Creating clear policy and an open culture
The two most important steps that councils must take to secure a healthy attitude towards whistleblowing in the public interest are to set out a clear policy, and to ensure that an organically open culture exists.
Setting out a comprehensive framework for whistleblowing is arguably the easy part. Any truly comprehensive policy needs to set out, in direct and certain terms, what the shape of any inquiry will be, and what procedures must be followed.
It goes without saying that efforts should be made to make sure that all employees are aware of the policy, and what it entails, to help them better understand the whistleblowing process and what their role within it may be in the case of senior management.
Instilling a more open, and supportive, workplace culture is a less straightforward task, but it is essential to creating the confidence in employees needed to let them speak up and enact positive change.
Providing the kind of training outlined above is a positive step, as it shows that such concerns are taken seriously, however there is plenty more that can only be done once a complaint has made. Managers who want to prove that whistleblowers will be supported should show that they are serious about protecting anonymity where it has been requested, as well as keeping detailed accounts of concerns raised and the steps taken to address them.
Talking about creating a culture is all well and good, but it is actions that matter in the long term. A council that listens to its staff and is willing to examine areas of weakness is one that can reassure stakeholders that it is serious about both public interest and the protecting employees.
Working with Safecall to establish a confidential whistleblowing hotline is an excellent step towards a more open culture. Our investigators are impartial and highly experienced, giving employees on all levels confidence in the process.
Build Confidence within your local authority
If you represent a council and want to build staff confidence in whistleblowing, or generally need to improve your disclosure process, Contact Safecall today. Our practical tools and training will help you keep standards and public trust high at all times.