Whistleblowing policy could be widened at Brighton and Hove City Council

Hove Town Hall
Hove Town Hall

Council staff who experience discrimination at work may soon be able to blow the whistle anonymously rather than being required to lodge a grievance.

They may also be able to whistleblow about race, sex or age discrimination as well as cases involving disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnerships, pregnancy and maternity and religion or belief.

And if they see others being discriminated against on any of those grounds, a proposed policy change would also give them whistleblowing rights in those cases.

Also, for the first time, the council’s whistleblowing policy is expected to explicitly include references to councillors. It already covers staff, contractors and the public.

A Brighton and Hove City Council report said that councillors were not excluded from whistleblowing but “it would be useful to expressly include them within the scope of the policy and make sure they are aware”.

The proposed changes to the council’s whistleblowing policy are due to be decided next week by the council’s Audit and Standards Committee.

A report to the committee said: “Where employees face or witness cases of racial discrimination or harassment, rather than being limited to using the HR (human resources) disciplinary or grievance procedures, they should have the option of using the whistleblowing policy.

“This would, for example, enable them to raise issues anonymously.

“It is recommended that this is agreed but, rather than limiting it to cases of racial discrimination, it be expanded to include discrimination or harassment based on, or related to, the victim’s protected characteristics.”

The report said: “There are multiple channels for receiving whistleblowing allegations.

“The policy includes a guarantee of anonymity if the person requests it. This is respected unless there is a legal obligation to disclose the information which may be the case, for example, in, cases involving safeguarding or terrorism where we may have to notify the police.

“The issues raised so far included allegations of fraud (eg, overcharging by contractors), nepotism, bullying and harassment and discrimination.

“Some of the allegations were vexatious. Some revealed serious cases of potential criminality and were referred to the police.

“The overwhelming majority of cases are dealt with by the service manager with the support of HR as necessary.

“The whistleblower is kept informed of progress and notified of the outcome. Many whistleblowing cases received are anonymous delivered by post which means we are unable to make contact with the whistleblower.”

The report also said that more work was needed to raise awareness of the council’s whistleblowing policy.

It added: “A publicity campaign is undertaken periodically to raise awareness of the policy.

“This includes information on the council’s website about whistleblowing, messages in employees’ payslips and blogs by directors.

“More work is planned over the coming weeks with the council’s Communications Team.”

So far this year there have been four whistleblowing cases, compared with eight in 2018-19, 11 in 2017-18, 10 in 2016-17 and 22 the year before.

The report said that the figures might not have captured all the complaints made as not all would be recorded centrally.

The proposed policy changes are due to be discussed by the council’s Audit and Standards Committee at Hove Town Hall next Tuesday (17 September). The meeting is scheduled to start at 4pm and should be open to the public.