Posted: Tue 16th Jan 2024

Review of Powys County Council’s Whistleblowing Policy Called For Following Allegations of Cover-Up

news.wales / newyddion.cymru

A REVIEW of Powys County Council’s Whistleblowing policy has been called for.
This follows accusations that were made last month that the council had attempted to cover up irregular use of a council credit card at the North Powys PRU (Pupil Referral Unit) in Newtown.
At a meeting of the council’s Governance and Audit committee on Friday, January 12 councillors were provided with a copy of the council’s whistleblowing policy.
Some changes had been made to the policy in September 2023 and another review is due to take place in 2028.
Conservative Cllr Pete Lewington, who represents a ward in Newtown where the PRU is based, said “I would have liked to seen a review of the complete whistleblowing governance framework especially in light of the recent case.”
Cllr Lewington wanted the Newtown PRU case used as a study for Audit Wales or internal auditors with the results used for future”lessons learned” and presented back to the committee.
Cllr Lewington: “The recent portrayal of the Post Office scandal on tv should sharply focus our minds on how we treat whistleblowers.
“We should do everything we possibly can to encourage and protect whistleblowers, as they are in many senses our first line of defence against fraud and corruption and protecting the public purse.”
Independent Cllr Graham Breeze backed Cllr Lewington’s suggestion.
Chief Executive Emma Palmer said: “I need to make it very clear to members.
“It is right for you to have a view on policy and strategy but not individual cases.
“They are confidential and are a matter for us to deal with operationally.
“You need to be satisfied that the right policies and procedures are in place.”
She added that there would be a commitment to provide whistleblowing figures, but they would not be in a standalone report but in those that are published annually, such as the governance statement.
Ms Palmer said: “I want to encourage whistleblowing, I want to know about things, and I want them to be dealt with appropriately.
“We know we needed to do fraud training and that is in place and work has been undertaken.”
Committee Chairwoman and lay member Lynne Hamilton said: “The best way to deal with these issues is to have transparency, confidence and certainty.”
“I would like a term of reference to be drawn up to review the framework and a draft to come to the next meeting.”
In December, media outlet Nation Cymru reported that the council has been accused of seeking to cover up irregular purchases made by a headteacher at the North Powys PRU also known as the Pathway Education Centre.
A whistleblower had reported the unusual purchases to the council.
On being told in September 2022 that no evidence of fraud could be found the whistleblower then took their concerns to Audit Wales.
The problem then became known to Plaid Cymru group leader, Cllr Elwyn Vaughan, who raised concerns about the handling of the complaint with Ms Palmer.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service has asked whether Dyfed-Powys Police have been brought in to investigate.
A spokesman for Powys County Council said: “The headteacher of the North PRU left his position in the last academic year before findings of an investigation could be taken to a hearing.
“An internal investigation has also been concluded regarding the situation.
“The council does not comment on internal disciplinary matters and has recently introduced new mandatory fraud training for staff.” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​



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