The whistleblowing policy sets out the ways in which you may raise concerns that you have and how those concerns will be dealt with. It gives protection to you from harassment, victimisation or bullying where you raise concerns within these procedures.

1. Policy Statement

1.1. Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council is committed to the highest possible standards of openness, integrity and accountability. In line with that commitment, the Council expects you and others that it deals with such as agency workers, contractors and partners, who have genuine concerns about any aspect of the Council’s work, to come forward and “Speak Out” under the auspices of this policy and the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998.

The Council will endeavour to ensure that the highest standards of conduct and probity are maintained and will take appropriate action to prevent serious failure, irregularities, dishonesty and wrongdoing.

The Council recognises that you may be reluctant to express your concerns because you feel this would be disloyal to managers, colleagues and others in the Council. You may also fear harassment or victimisation and this could lead you to ignore the problem rather than report it, particularly if this is just a suspicion. However this Council wants to create a culture of accountability and openness, not apathy and secrecy. This policy will help to achieve this aim.

2. Purpose of the policy

2.1. The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 amended the Employment Rights Act 1996 to provide protection for workers who raise legitimate concerns about specified matters.

2.2. The policy supports the Council’s Counter Fraud Strategy and The UK Bribery Act 2010 statement. It is intended to help anyone, whether employees of the Council or not, who have major concerns over any wrong-doing within the Council, or its partners or contractors to raise concerns within the Council rather than overlooking the problem or “blowing the whistle” outside. These concerns may, relate to unlawful conduct, financial malpractice or dangers to the public or the environment. Specific examples could include where;

  • a criminal offence (e.g. fraud, corruption or theft) has been or is likely to be committed;
  • a miscarriage of justice has been or is likely to occur;
  • the health or safety of any individual has been or is likely to be threatened;
  • the environment has been or is likely to be damaged;
  • public funds are being used in an unauthorised or illegal manner;
  • conflict of interest e.g. not declaring a direct or indirect financial interest in a company which trades, or could potentially trade with the Council or a direct personal, financial and other interests which may conflict with the business of the Council or with their employment with the Council;
  • breach of a legal obligation;
  • the Council’s Constitution (including Standing Orders, Financial Regulations, etc) has not been (or is not being) observed or is being breached by Elected Members and/or employees;
  • sexual, physical or verbal abuse or mistreatment of any employee or service recipient is taking place;
  • discrimination as defined under the Equality Act 2010 is occurring to any employee or service recipient;
  • showing undue favour over a contractual matter or to a job applicant;
  • any other form of improper action or conduct is taking place, or if information relating to any of the above is being deliberately concealed or attempts are being made to conceal it.
  • if told not to raise or pursue any concern by a line manager or senior officer you should not remain silent - the matter should be reported to the Head of Audit, Assurance & Procurement.

2.3. The Whistleblowing Policy is for concerns where the interests of others or of the organisation itself are at risk. The Council has devised this policy to enable you to raise your concerns at an early stage and in the right way. The Council would rather that you raised the matter when it is just a concern rather than wait for concrete proof. A reasonable belief is sufficient. Under no circumstances should you try to obtain proof yourself.

2.4. If something is troubling you about which you think either the Council should know or we ought to look into, please use this policy.

2.5. If, however, you are a council employee and your concerns are in respect of an employment related matter, there are other policies which apply, for example the grievance policy or other complaints procedures. For advice on these policies please contact HR and they will advise you how to raise such matters (see also 3.2 below).

3. Aims of the policy

3.1. The policy aims to;

  • reassure you that if you raise any concerns, you will be protected from dismissal, possible reprisals, victimisation or other detriment;
  • encourage people to feel confident in raising serious concerns and to question and act upon their concerns;
  • provide ways for anyone to raise those concerns and get feedback on any action taken as a result, and ensure that those raising issues get a response to their concerns and that they are aware of how to pursue them if they are not satisfied with any actions.

3.2. This policy is not a substitute for and does not replace other relevant policies within the Council. Where the concerns raised relate to a breach of one of these they will be investigated under the most relevant policy. In such cases you will still receive protection in respect of confidentiality and anonymity as detailed in this policy. This policy is not intended to be used where other more appropriate procedures are available, for example;

  • financial regulations;
  • anti-fraud strategies and policies
  • child protection procedures;
  • health and safety policy
  • the disciplinary policy;
  • dignity at work policy statement
  • the complaints procedure;
  • the grievance policy, which an employee would use to resolve contractual disagreements relating to his/her own conditions of service;
  • codes of practice for social care and other professions within the Council

3.3. A list of the policies and key contact names and organisations are set out in Appendix 1 of this policy.

3.4. A representative of the Director of Finance and IT and Director of HR, Legal and Corporate Services will agree the most appropriate policy for the allegation to be dealt with – refer to Section 8.

4. Who may use the policy

4.1 All employees of the Council; self-employed workers, if supervised or working off-site; people that are training with the Council, but not employed, and any of the Council’s other partners and members of the public may use this policy. This includes permanent and temporary employees or workers. It also covers agency workers and employees seconded to a third party. Any concerns relating to the third party, if relevant to the individuals Secondment, can also be raised under this policy.

4.2 Contractors working for the Council may also use the provisions of this policy to make the Council aware of any concerns that their employees may have with regard to any contractual or other arrangement with the Council. The private concerns of the contractor relating to non-council business should be raised with the relevant contractor and/or other suitable agency/regulator – including the police, if appropriate.

4.3 Each school must have their own Whistleblowing Policy in place. Employees in schools should refer to the relevant school’s policy. Whistleblowing guidance for employees or workers in schools can be found on the Council’s intranet site at Human Resources/Schools.

5. Confidentiality

5.1 All concerns will be treated in confidence and the Council will make every reasonable effort not to reveal your identity, if you so wish. We will not disclose your identity without your consent or unless this is required of us by a Directive from a Court of Law or other Authority. We may be instructed to provide information that identifies you in/directly and so you should be aware that whilst you may make a disclosure anonymously, this may not be guaranteed at a later stage.

5.2 Anyone involved in an investigation under the scope of this policy must maintain confidentiality of the complaint and the information provided. At the appropriate time, either during the investigation or at the conclusion, you may need to come forward as a witness and will be given assistance and support to help you.

5.3 You should also refer to section 3 of the Code of Conduct regarding disclosure and confidentiality of information obtained in the course of your employment.

5.4 You should note that anyone disclosing confidential information outside the Council that is not covered by the Public Interest Disclosure Act could be subject to disciplinary action for a potential breach of the Data Protection Act 1998.

6. Protection are you entitled to when raising a complaint

6.1 The Council recognises that the decision to report a concern can be a difficult one to make. Because of this, the Council wants to be supportive and will not tolerate any harassment, bullying or victimisation. It will take appropriate action to protect you if you raise a concern.

6.2 Should you believe that you have suffered a detriment or been victimised, harassed or bullied or dismissed in breach of the protections afforded by the Public Interest Disclosure Act, 1998 in response to your disclosure, you should raise this immediately as a grievance and it will be investigated.

6.3 Any investigation into allegations of potential malpractice will normally not be influenced by any employment procedures that may already be underway. It is not the Council’s intention to delay action taken under the disciplinary or other policies, pending the completion of investigations taken in accordance with this policy, unless the Council considers that the merits of a particular case warrant this.

6.4 If you raise a concern under this policy, you will not be at risk of suffering any form of retribution as a result, provided that;

  • the disclosure is made to the appropriate person or Bodies;
  • you reasonably believe that the disclosure is in the public interest
  • and/or you are not acting for personal gain.

7. How to raise a concern within the Council

7.1 The Council operates a single point of contact system for all whistleblowing matters. All notifications are initially dealt with by the Audit, Assurance & Procurement team who can be contacted by;

  • using the Council’s dedicated help line Tel: 585688;
  • by e-mail to the Council’s dedicated whistleblowing in box whistleblowing@blackburn.gov.uk;
  • by contacting a Head of Service or Director of the Council. In this situation the Head of Service or Director is then required to contact Audit, Assurance & Procurement by using one of the methods listed above)
  • by confidential letter to the Audit, Assurance & Procurement team in the Tower Block

7.2 Calls or e-mails that are not fraud or audit related will be forwarded to the relevant departmental director for action. If you request anonymity, any and all information which may identify you will be deleted before being passed on if at all possible/practicable.

7.3 If you use the e-mail method of whistleblowing you should provide the following information, where possible;

  • the background and history of the concern (giving relevant names, dates, and places where possible);
  • the reason why you are particularly concerned about the situation, and the possible implications of your concerns.

The earlier your concern is expressed, the easier it is to investigate and take action.

8. How the Council will respond

8.1 The Council will respond to your concerns and all allegations will be investigated thoroughly. Where appropriate, the matters raised will;

  • be investigated by management, Audit, Assurance & Procurement or other appropriate procedures (for example, through Child Protection Procedures);
  • be referred to Human Resources to be investigated under the most appropriate Council policy (for example, the Disciplinary Policy or Dignity at Work Policy);
  • be referred to the police;
  • be referred to the external auditor;
  • form the subject of an independent inquiry, or in the case of an Elected Member, be referred to the Council's Standard's Committee

8.2 Within two working days of a concern being received, if you leave your name, Audit, Assurance & Procurement will write to you to acknowledge that the concern has been received. Following a review of the concerns raised, which will normally involve an early meeting with you to clarify the details of the matters raised, you will then be informed in writing within ten working days of receipt of your concerns how the matter will be progressed in line with the relevant policy. This will include an explanation of which policy is the most appropriate for this concern to be investigated under. A copy of the relevant policy will be provided to you along with the expectations of the complainant going forward i.e. in respect of confidentiality etc. A named Investigating Officer will be appointed to deal with the matter and provide a contact point regarding progress.

8.3 If it is decided that the matter will not be progressed an explanation will be provided.

8.4 Investigations will be properly planned and controlled to ensure a thorough and timely conclusion, as far as possible. If urgent action is required for example secure relevant evidence or protect the safety of individuals, this will be taken immediately.

8.5 Where the complaint involves partner organisations and their employees, the Council will seek full co-operation with the partner, and will encourage partner organisations to deal with the matter in accordance with the general principles of this policy, as this complies with the spirit of the Public Interest Disclosure Act. However, where the partner does not co-operate, the investigation will be carried out by the Council as far as is reasonably practicable and the partner will be advised of any action that the Council intends to take.

8.6 In order to protect all individuals (including those accused of possible malpractice), brief initial enquiries will be made to clarify the details of the matters, decide whether an investigation is appropriate and, if so, what form it should take. However, if immediate or urgent action is required, this will be taken before any investigation is concluded. After initial enquiries, it may be possible to resolve some or all concerns with an explanation and/or an agreed course of action.

8.7 The amount of contact between the Investigating Officer and you will depend on the nature of the matters raised, and the clarity of the information provided. If necessary, the Investigating Officer will seek further information from you. In such instances we will always try to maintain your anonymity but this may not always be possible particularly in cases relating to bullying or harassment and cases leading to civil or criminal proceedings.

8.8 The investigation process may review the source of the information and a statement by you may be required to provide a statement as part of the evidence. Where it is not possible to resolve the concern without revealing your identity we will discuss the matter with you.

8.9 You will have the opportunity to have a trade union representative, friend or other relevant person present with you at any meeting with the Investigating Officer if you wish. Where this person is not a trade union representative or work colleague it is at the Council’s discretion to allow them to be present.

8.10 Any representative attending any meeting will be bound by the confidentiality clauses within this policy, unless there is an obligation covered by external legislation that binds or requires the representative to make a qualified disclosure to a relevant Body.

8.11 The Council will take reasonable steps to minimise any issues, which may result from your concern. If it is necessary for you to give evidence in criminal or disciplinary proceedings, the Council, through the Director of HR,Legal and Corporate Services (or his/her representative), will arrange for you to receive advice about the procedure.

8.12 The outcomes of whistleblowing complaints will directly impact on the effectiveness of the Council’s governance arrangements as reported in the Annual Governance Statement.

8.13 Details of all whistleblowing complaints, and the outcomes of these complaints, will be formally reported in summary form (to respect confidentiality issues) to the Audit Committee each year. This will include details of actions taken to prevent, or minimise the risk of, similar situations occurring in the future (lessons learned).

8.14 Each month the Investigating Officer will report details of complaints received, actions taken, results of completed investigations and the progress of ongoing investigations to the Investigations Panel of the Council’s Primary Assurance Group.

8.15 The Council will publicise all successful prosecutions whether resulting from whistleblowing or not.

8.16 Should you require it we will provide feedback regarding the outcome of your complaint to you after the completion of an investigation where we are able to, without infringing a duty of confidence owed by us to other individuals.

9. Raising concerns outside the authority

9.1 In accordance with the Act, this policy is intended to provide you with an avenue within the Council to raise concerns and the Council hopes you will be satisfied with any action taken. The Council encourages you to make full and thorough use of the internal procedures before contacting an external body.

9.2 If you feel unable to use the internal procedures to raise your concerns you can contact Public Concern at Work, who will provide a confidential helpline for advice as well as guidance regarding relevant external bodies to contact. Their telephone number is 0207 404 6609.

9.3 If you remain concerned having exhausted all internal procedures, and believe your concerns are a matter of such extreme seriousness or urgency, you have a right to take the matter outside the Council and the following are examples of external organisations you can contact;

  • the Council’s External Auditors ;
  • the Police;
  • Ofsted;
  • the National Audit Office;
  • the Health and Safety Executive;
  • the Information Commissioner;
  • the independent charity Public Concern at Work.

For employees, if you are considering raising a concern outside the Council you may first seek advice from the Director of HR, Legal and Corporate Services or Head of Audit, Assurance & Procurement, if you wish. You could also speak to your trade union if you are a member but should seek to resolve matters via the internal procedures in the first instance. Contact details for the above organisations are provided in Appendix 2.

9.4 It will be safe to raise a concern with any of the above so long as you reasonably believe your allegations to be in the public interest and you do not make the disclosure for personal gain.

9.5 For staff within the residential network there is a requirement for persons working at the home to report any concerns about the welfare or safety of a child accommodated there to one of the following:

  1. the registered person;
  2. a police officer;
  3. an officer of HMCI (Ofsted)
  4. an officer of the local authority in whose area the home is situated, or
  5. an officer of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

10. Anonymous allegations

10.1 This policy encourages you to put your name to an allegation whenever possible and the Council will do its best to protect your identity. However, we may be obliged to provide information that identifies you indirectly and so you should be aware that whilst you may make a disclosure anonymously, this may not be guaranteed at a later stage.

10.2 Concerns expressed anonymously are much less powerful and are often more difficult to investigate, however, these will be considered at the discretion of the Council. In exercising this discretion the factors to be taken into account would include;

  • the seriousness of the issues raised;
  • the likelihood of being able to confirm the allegation from attributable sources.

11. Allegations with no foundation

11.1 If you make an allegation in what you believe to be the public interest and without any motive of personal gain, whether the allegation is confirmed or not at the conclusion of the investigation, no action will be taken against you.

11.2 If, however, you make an allegation which is considered not to be in line with the Public Interest Disclosure Act i.e. for personal gain, disciplinary or legal action may be taken depending on the circumstances of the case.

12. Monitoring the policy

12.1 Employees who have any comments on the operation of this policy are encouraged to raise them with the Director of HR, Legal and Cosprate Services, Audit, Assurance & Procurement or their Trade Union.

12.2 The Director of HR. Legal and Corporate Services is the policy owner and has overall responsibility for the maintenance and operation of this policy. This policy will be reviewed periodically by the Director of HR,Legal and Corporate Services and the Head of Audit, Assurance & Procurement so as to ensure its continuing effectiveness or amended as per changes in legislation which require changes to be made to the policy.

13. Further guidance

If you require further advice regarding the application of this policy and guidance please contact the appropriate Human Resources Team for your Programme Area – (Intranet > Human Resources > Contacts)

14. Approving Body & Date

LJNCC (Council) – 28 August 2013

Updated - 10th September 2015