Agenda item


This report presents the annual whistleblowing report of the Council as a new report to the Audit and Governance Committee to improve transparency and accountability. The report summarises the whistleblowing activity over the last year and analyses the effectiveness of the Council’s system.





Bella Smith - Head of Insight, Programmes and Governance

Simon White - Audit Manager – Counter Fraud

Paul Evans - Director of Law and Governance

Key points raised during the discussion:

1.    The Head of Insight, Programmes and Governance introduced the report and provided assurance that her governance team monitored whistleblowing cases closely following a due process. She noted that the Council was required to have a whistleblowing process, the Council contracted an external provider Navex Global which provided an impartial way for people to report whistleblowing, some other local authorities had internal whistleblowing processes.

2.    The Head of Insight, Programmes and Governance highlighted that the Council had low numbers of cases proportionate to the size of the organisation. Fifteen whistleblowing cases had been reported compared to twelve last year, the slight increase was thought to be due to greater awareness of the policy via communications campaigns; communications were a key focus and the policy would be promoted via the induction pack for new employees. The largest Directorate Children, Families and Lifelong Learning (CFLL) had the highest number of cases. The types of allegations were broken down and historically bullying and harassment had been the major issue, however there had been zero cases reported. She noted that SFRS next year would be reported separately from the Chief Executive Office Directorate. Whistleblowing cases in 2018/19 were higher due to the restructure in CFLL, however many of those cases were in fact grievances. She was liaising with counterparts at Hampshire County Council to work out how they tracked their grievances as they reported a low number of cases; an update on the comparison with other councils would be included in next year’s report. 

3.    A Committee member asked whether whistleblowing was generally reported anonymously, as opposed to when reporting a grievance or a complaint. The Head of Insight, Programmes and Governance noted that was correct, that was the reason for having an external provider so people can remain anonymous, updates were provided after 14 days, after 28 days and at the end of the case. 

4.    The Vice-Chairman asked whether existing employees alongside new employees would be asked to sign the Code of Conduct too; he asked for that to be a recommendation. The Head of Insight, Programmes and Governance noted that was the plan going forward, it was to be reviewed again in the autumn ensuring that it was as succinct as possible. She noted that it would be difficult to do, however some smaller local authorities did that annually.

5.    A Committee member referred to the benchmarking exercise with similar sized local authorities and asked whether there were any other reasons for their low number of cases other than underreporting. The Head of Insight, Programmes and Governance noted that the obvious reason in the case of Hampshire County Council would be that there were no cases to whistleblow, taking into consideration its size that was strange. The Audit Manager – Counter Fraud added that of those local authorities, the Council was the only one with an external hotline and that might affect the number of cases reported. 

6.    The Chairman queried whether whistleblowing activity was reviewed by a group of Members apart from the report to the Committee, the Head of Insight, Programmes and Governance noted that it was not reviewed elsewhere.

7.    A Committee member presumed that the whistleblowing and grievance policies applied only to people directly employed by the Council, therefore anyone working indirectly for the Council through a contractor was unable to use those. The Head of Insight, Programmes and Governance explained that the whistleblowing policy applied to Council officers, people contracted to work for the Council through third parties as well as teachers; whilst the grievance policy was only for Council officers. She noted that individual schools monitored their whistleblowing activity, her team received that information and themes could be picked up from several similar whistleblowing cases across multiple schools.

8.    The Director of Law and Governance noted that it was identified that the Council could improve its whistleblowing arrangements by reporting to Members, as was being done so via the annual report to the Committee. He noted that officers met quarterly to review the whistleblowing cases and to provide assurance that it was an effective system in terms of the numbers received, comparing that with others. He noted the strong relationship between the number of whistleblowers and the effectiveness of the Council’s communications throughout the year, noting that the rise in cases a few years ago was positive as it reflected the greater awareness of the policy; that continued to be monitored.

9.    A Committee member asked how often the Council reaffirmed its whistleblowing policy via communications and what were the communication channels. The Director of Law and Governance noted that there was a quarterly communications programme, and one-off opportunities for reporting such as National Whistleblowing Day were factored into the communications plan. 

10.  A Committee member noted that as the whistleblowing policy was available to schools and contractors, then the current headcount figures in the table of around 10,000 employees would likely be more than doubled. She asked for those figures to be included, the Head of Insight, Programmes and Governance would do so. She also wondered whether the hotline was available to the borough and district councils. The Head of Insight, Programmes and Governance noted that the hotline was not offered to the borough and district councils.



1.    Reviewed the contents of the Annual Whistleblowing report to satisfy themselves that the governance arrangements were operating effectively; and

2.    Made the following recommendations for improvement:

·         That existing employees alongside new employees would be asked to sign the Code of Conduct too. 

·         That the headcount figures regarding the whistleblowing cases be updated to include other employees such as those in schools and contractors.  


Actions/further information to be provided:

1.    A17/23 - The two recommendations for improvement made by the Committee will be incorporated into next year’s Whistleblowing Annual Report. 

2.    A18/23 - The Head of Insight, Programmes and Governance will ensure that next year’s Whistleblowing Annual Report includes the comparison of how other councils track their grievances as well as their whistleblower cases.


Supporting documents: