Clarity needed over whistle-blowing procedure at North Lanarkshire Council

SNP Group leader Tom Johnston
SNP Group leader Tom Johnston

A call has been made for greater clarity regarding whistle-blowing procedures at North Lanarkshire Council.

As was recently reported, 11 education workers have been investigated over irregularities in their employment circumstances.

There were allegations of posts being created without following correct procedures and staff being recruited for jobs which were never advertised.

One employee was also found to have been paid full time while working two days a week.

SNP Group leader Tom Johnston has called for more information on the best way for council staff to report such problems to management.

Councillor Johnston said: “One employee stated that she would not question a senior officer’s request to create a new post or new employee. This is why we need effective whistle-blowing procedures. Our employees must feel safe reporting irregularities.”

The issues in the council’s education department were highlighted in a heavily redacted report submitted to the audit and scrutiny committee.

Mr Johnston added: “The report states that improper recruitment procedures had become ‘established custom and practice’ in education. I find this alarming.

“Happily, these events occurred before the new director of education and families was appointed last month.  However, just four years ago the council was involved in a £21 million contracts controversy which, at bottom, involved slipshod management of contract handling. That cost the council dearly.

“We are now on our fourth director of education in five years, one previous incumbent was suspended for producing inaccurate teaching posts statistics.

“The SNP Group will be demanding a full and thorough investigation of this new report on jobs.  I have asked if the General Teaching Council Scotland should be involved. I also wish to know the whistle-blowing procedures for teaching and education staff. I have asked if staff can whistle-blow directly to elected members, conveners and vice-conveners of committees.”

A council spokesman responded:  “We have a well-established whistle-blowing policy which is available to all employees on the council’s intranet.

“It clearly sets out how employees should approach reporting serious concerns, including who these should be reported to. Central to the policy is the ability for employees to make reports confidentially which will be handled with discretion.

“Employees are, of course, free to approach a councillor with concerns. However, this is not a substitute for using the formal procedure to ensure that the council deals with the matter in accordance with legislation.

“Councillors, as set out in the councillors’ Code of Conduct published by the Standards Commission, must not involve themselves in operational management and staffing matters, and any such concern raised with an elected member should be immediately reported to the chief executive.”

Neil McGrory - Local Democracy Reporting Service