Grants repaid to Shropshire Council after whistleblower tip-offs

Four grants issued by Shropshire Council last year had to be repaid to the authority following whistleblowing investigations.

Grants repaid to Shropshire Council after whistleblower tip-offs

A report to the council’s audit committee reveals grant fraud was the most common theme among the 35 whistleblowing reports made by employees, councillors and contractors in 2020/21.

The total figure was an increase on the 20 disclosures made the previous year, none of which concerned grant fraud.

The report says last year there was a total of 11 reports of grant fraud as well as seven disclosures concerning theft and tax fraud.

Others involved benefit fraud, planning matters, safeguarding, data protection and highways.

The report, by Sam Williams, the council's assistant director workforce, says: “The most reported theme was grant fraud, with the outcome of the subsequent audit investigations resulting in four cases of grant recovery and other grant fraud reports finding no case to answer.

“Overall for the categories of grant fraud, financial and benefit fraud a total of seven cases were referred to a third party, including Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), Action Fraud and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).”

The report does not say who the grants were paid to, their value or under which grant programme they were issued.

Of the 35 investigations, 15 concluded there was no case to answer, while three resulted in no further action.

Two cases were dealt with under other procedures, two resulted in management action and the outcome of a further two cases is listed as “other”.

Comparing the volume of cases to previous years, the report says: “In 2019/20, there were 20 cases reported under the whistleblowing arrangements for Shropshire Council, the majority of these allegations were relating to fraud and property issues.

“In 2018/19 there were 33 cases reported and most of those allegations were relating to finance abuse, planning, housing and fraud.”

The report also reveals an employment tribunal was held earlier this year after a former consultant claimed he was treated unfairly by the council after making a disclosure under the whistleblowing procedure.

It says: “In May this year, there was a challenge to the whistleblowing policy and supporting process through an employment tribunal which took place over a two week period.

“The claimant stated that the council failed to instigate its whistleblowing policy.

“The tribunal found that the council’s policy was commenced and there was no evidence at all to support the claim, the claimant did not suffer any detriment as a result of his protected disclosures.

“This result confirms that we follow our whistleblowing policy in practice.”

The audit committee will consider the whistleblowing report at a meeting next Friday.

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