William Eichler 19 August 2016

Councils should encourage whistleblowing say MPs

Councils should encourage whistleblowing say MPs image

Local authorities must learn from the imposition of commissioners in Tower Hamlets and Rotherham to ensure children are protected and whistleblowers taken seriously, select committee concludes.

The Communities and Local Government Committee investigated what worked and what could have been improved in interventions into the two borough councils to ensure any future interventions in other authorities are effective and transparent.

The committee’s report urges the Local Government Association (LGA), local authorities and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to learn the lessons about how to monitor and mitigate the risks of the failings seen in East London and South Yorkshire.

Commissioners took over Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council’s executive functions in February 2015 after an investigation into local child sexual exploitation found the council ‘not fit for purpose’.

The then communities secretary Eric Pickles also imposed commissioners on Tower Hamlets Borough Council last year following what he described as the ‘mismanagement of public money and the breakdown of democratic accountability.’

Highlighting Rotherham and Tower Hamlets’ past failures to take whistleblowers seriously, the committee’s report stresses the importance of local authorities encouraging people to come forward with their concerns.

It also recommends the Government take necessary legislative action to ensure whistleblowers who approach commissioners have legal protection.

The committee voiced concerns that neither the Government nor any other council had contacted Rotherham leader Chris Read to learn how he was responding to the recommendations of previous investigations.

The report also calls for all councils to ensure they have good scrutiny arrangements in place. It said there should be proper checks and balances ‘to drive a culture of transparency and continuous improvement’.

One particular significant legal loophole uncovered concerned taxi licensing. Taxis licensed by other local authorities can operate within Rotherham, even if the drivers have had their application for a Rotherham licence rejected.

This means drivers are operating in the borough without meeting the council's recently-imposed requirement for taxis to be fitted with CCTV. The committee urges the DCLG to close this loophole.

One of the other crucial recommendations made in the report concerns the funding of interventions. It suggests local authorities in receipt of interventions should be responsible for bearing the costs and these should be made public.

Clive Betts MP, chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, said: ‘The Department for Communities and Local Government must carefully examine what worked and what could have been done better with these interventions so that the process can be improved for possible future cases.

‘It is also vital that the failings in Rotherham and Tower Hamlets and the work done to address them are identified and shared so that similar issues can be addressed in other local authorities at an early stage to avoid them hitting rock bottom and having Commissioners imposed upon them.

‘The DCLG and LGA clearly have important role to play in this, but local authorities must also take responsibility themselves for seeking out and sharing this best practice.’

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