Conclusions and recommendations |
1. Whistleblowing is when an employee raises
a concern about wrongdoing, malpractice or poor practice in the
workplace that has a public interest aspect to it. Whistleblowers
mostly act because they have ethical or professional concerns
about what is happening in their workplace. We have seen these
concerns raised across the spectrum of the public realm, from
tax collection to the quality of health and social care to the
roll-out of rural broadband. Careful and appropriate treatment
of whistleblowers is important to protect and reassure the workforce,
and to encourage openness that is vital to supporting better public
services. Whistleblowing has become much more high profile in
recent years, as well-publicised cases such as Hillsborough and
the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust inquiry have shown.
2. The treatment of some whistleblowers has
been shocking and departments have sometimes failed to protect
some whistleblowers from being victimised. We have heard of
too many cases of appalling treatment of whistleblowers by their
colleagues, but departments were unable to tell us if those who
have threatened or victimised whistleblowers had been sanctioned.
We heard from a whistleblower in the Care Quality Commission who
was victimised by senior departmental officials, but it appeared
that no-one had been sanctioned as a result. Public Concern at
Work could recall only one case where an employee who victimised
a whistleblower had been sanctioned. This lack of action has a
profound impact on confidence and trust in the system, and means
that employees are less likely to blow the whistle for fear of
what may happen to them. In a survey of Ministry of Defence employees,
only 40% of respondents felt they would not suffer reprisals if
they raised a concern, and a survey of Department of Health employees
found only 54% of respondents felt confident that they could speak
up. None of the departments we heard from had systematic arrangements
in place to provide support and advice to whistleblowers.
the identity of whistleblowers is known, departments must ensure
that they are protected, supported and have their welfare monitored.
This should include:
from the top by assigning a board member who is accountable for
the proper treatment of whistleblowers.
whistleblowers with appropriate support and advice, such as access
to legal and counselling services.
and swift sanctions against employees, at all levels in the organisation,
if they victimise whistleblowers.
3. Whistleblowers are often unclear who best
to raise their concerns with. Across the civil service, over
one third of employees do not know how to raise a concern under
the civil service code. A Ministry of Defence survey found that
57% of employees who responded did not know that a whistleblowing
policy existed. We heard that some departments recognise this
problem and are acting to address it, with both the Ministry of
Defence and Department for Education introducing clearer policies
which the workforce know about and feel confidence in. We previously
commented, in our March 2014 report on the contracting out of
public services, on the lack of effective arrangements for whistleblowers
employed by private companies delivering public services with
the taxpayer's pound. Legislation has enabled contractors to nominate
someone in the contracting department as a person to whom whistleblowers
can make authorised disclosures, but none of the four contractors
we examined for that report had done so.
should provide all employees with a route map that clarifies suitable
internal and external reporting routes. This should be replicated
through the delivery system with clear obligations on private
and third sector providers delivering public services that they
must employ strong and effective whistleblowing policies.
4. There is a lack of transparency on how
departments address concerns raised by whistleblowers. Whistleblowers
need to know that they will be kept regularly informed on the
progress of their cases and that they will be told about changes
and improvements which have come about because of the concerns
they raised. In practice, whistleblowers are not routinely informed
about how their concerns have been handled and what outcomes have
been reached. We heard from one whistleblower who felt excluded
and ignored when she was not kept informed of progress in investigating
her concerns. Departments accepted the importance of publicising
the outcomes of whistleblowing cases, but there is little evidence
that they have enacted this in practice.
clear arrangements for reporting back in a timely fashion to whistleblowers
on how their concerns have been addressed.
to their workforce and tell the whistleblower about changes they
have made to processes and policies as a result of whistleblowing.
on the effectiveness of whistleblowing arrangements in their governance
statements in their Annual Report and Accounts.
5. There is a startling disconnect between
the generally good quality of whistleblowing policies in theory
and how arrangements actually work in practice. Departments
have taken steps to improve their policies in recent years, for
example more departments have adopted the good practice policies
produced by the Civil Service Employee Policy service. Employees,
however, continue to lack trust in the system and remain sceptical
that their concerns will be dealt with properly. The civil service
survey in 2013 found that only 67% of respondents were confident
that if they raised a concern it would be investigated properly.
Departments have not defined the measures to help them monitor
improvements and understand whether their whistleblowing policies
have been implemented successfully.
should assess whether whistleblowing arrangements are effective
by making better use of currently available measures, such as
the civil service survey, and introducing others, such as trends
in the number of whistleblowing cases and the timeliness of investigations.
Departments should also consider how they can enhance their support
for whistleblowers, looking for instance at measures like tracking
employment skills and career progression and asking whistleblowers
about their views on the whistleblowing process.
6. Whistleblowers can help organisations identify
systemic issues, but departments are not exploiting this intelligence.
We have heard at first hand of concerns raised across a wide
range of public services delivered by the public, private and
voluntary sectors. Some departments, such as the Department for
Education, are totally reactive and only know about concerns that
are raised directly with them. They do not know about concerns
raised by whistleblowers across the range of organisations in
their sectors and at the front line of delivery. Departments are
therefore not receiving all the intelligence that they should.
The failure to know what staff or clients say makes it more difficult
for departments to assess whether there is a systemic issue of
concern in a particular service or in a particular workplace.
should collect and apply intelligence on concerns raised by whistleblowers
from the full range of arm's length bodies and other providers
involved in their sectors. They should use and analyse the data
to identify any systemic issues.
7. The lack of cross-government leadership
has led to inconsistency in whistleblowing arrangements. Across
government, there are some sources of advice and guidance on whistleblowing
arrangements, for example guidance from the Civil Service Employee
Policy service. However departments can choose to use or ignore
the guidance. Departments are not challenged or held to account
for their policies on whistleblowing. While we recognise that
systems will vary to a degree, strong leadership within central
government is needed to ensure departments learn from what works
and improve in whistleblowing arrangements.
Cabinet Office should set out how it will ensure whistleblowing
policy and practices receive the strong leadership they need,
so that there are consistent expectations across government and
departments can be held to account.
8. In our previous report on special severance
payments, we recommended that the Cabinet Office issue revised
guidance requiring public sector organisations to seek approval
from the Cabinet Office for all special severance payments and
associated compromise agreements where they relate to cases of
whistleblowing. In its response to our report, the Government
agreed with our recommendation, but did not address the point
that public sector organisations should secure approval from the
Cabinet Office for any such payments.
reiterate our previous recommendation that public sector organisations
should secure approval from the Cabinet Office for all special
severance payments, and associated compromise agreements, where
they relate to whistleblowing. We expect to see this included
in the Cabinet Office guidance.