Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Whistleblowing: "in future no one should be exposed to personal and professional risk for doing what is in the public interest”

More and more organisations have mechanisms in place to enable whistleblowing:

There were some signs of progress, such as in whistle-blowing, where 80pc of companies now mention a policy for raising concerns within the business.
Directors are still not properly policing corporate dangers, study finds - Telegraph

And more and more people are coming forward with concerns:
Annual whistleblowing report published by Public Concern at Work | theHRDIRECTOR - The only magazine dedicated to HR Directors
Public Concern at Work - Making Whistleblowing Work - 0207 404 6609

However, it is still very difficult to blow the whistle, as a recent report shows:
Why whistleblowing doesn't come easily - PysOrg

And the consequences can be pretty brutal:
Life after whistleblowing | Features | Times Higher Education

The question is how easy it is to blow the whistle as a public servant.

The District Council has its own policy:
Minutes of a Meeting of the Audit and Governance Committee 19 January 2012

However, it seems that not everything has worked out smoothly:
“Whistleblowers are pursued and persecuted” | East Devon Alliance
Futures Forum: Bringing official bodies into 'disrepute': the dangers of censoring what politicians don't want to hear in East Devon

Independent Susie Bond commented that such “outing” of witnesses in police inquiries could well discourage “whistle-blowers” from coming forward in the future with information of possible interest to the police.
Councillor slams CEO Mark Williams over “outing” of witness in police inquiry | East Devon Alliance

There have been several reports of late:
Futures Forum: Concerns for corruption in Local Government
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: 'checks and balances': the SWAP

And there have been several Freedom of Information requests made to the District Council on the subject of 'gagging orders' - which restrict any 'whistleblowing' by officers:
Redundancy Payments in last two years - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow
'Gagging Order ' Payments - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow
Gagging Orders - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow

... with a withering comment added to this FOI request:

annotation (14 October 2012)

Here’s a piece of legal opinion from Senior Counsel Hugh Tomlinson QC, which appears to make more likely the prospect of public sector employers opting for Freedom of Information and Data Protection “gagging clauses” within compromise agreements; and thereby aiming to remove persons’ statutory rights to make data and information requests.

It has been an effective reputation management tactic, and a way of concealing the historical malpractice engaged in by employers when targetting whistleblowers or getting rid of people who’ve lodged grievances. The ruse has been deployed in the past by two councils; Cheshire West & Chester, and Brent.

The ICO are powerless to prevent it as the HT opinion implies that contract law takes precedence over a person’s statutory rights – which it appears can be surrendered. The ICO could only act if the recipient of any “ban” were to breach it and make an FoI or DP request of the relevant data controller – which is unlikely to occur because there’s always a “club over the head” of the signatory to the compromise agreement i.e. the threat of any monetary pay off being clawed back through the courts. 

Opinion of Senior Counsel, Hugh Tomlinson QC, on Freedom of Information “ban” by Cheshire West and Chester Council – | Wirral In It Together
Total Annual Figures for Compromise Agreements, etc. - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow

It still seems very much the case, therefore, that staff will continue to be unwilling to come forward, despite new regulations which are coming into force this month:

Public-sector whistleblowers 'are still seen as snitches', admits Civil Service boss Sir Jeremy Heywood

Staff who expose malpractice are treated appallingly, admits the Cabinet Secretary


Public sector whistleblowers are still seen as “disloyal snitches” who get “the treatment they deserve” if they are hounded out of their jobs, Britain’s most senior civil servant has warned.

Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, said the “appalling treatment” suffered by some Government workers who exposed malpractice had compounded the scandals they uncovered.

And he warned that in future senior civil servants would be personally “held to account” for how whistleblowing cases were dealt with in their departments.

In addition, all Government severance contracts will have to make clear that confidentiality clauses cannot “seek to stifle or discourage employees from raising concerns” about wrongdoing or poor practice. “Any attempt to ‘gag’ someone or buy their silence will not be tolerated,” Sir Jeremy wrote in a blog posting to civil servants.

Announcing the changes, Sir Jeremy – who recently took on a new role as head of the civil service – said: “A playground morality persists in some quarters, seeing whistleblowers as snitches, renegades, somehow disloyal, who get the treatment they deserve.

“The Civil Service is committed to openness and transparency. Transparency means not being able to pick and choose what is visible to scrutiny. It should shine a light into every corner of public life and public service. We fatally compromise this principle if we allow uncomfortable truths to be hidden or covered up.”

Mr Heywood said the Government was accepting all but one of the recommendations made by MPs on the Public Accounts Committee to tighten whistleblowing policy.

Sir Jeremy Heywood said there was a ‘playground morality’ around employees who exposed wrongdoing (Rex)

The PAC found widespread concern among civil servants that they would be victimised if they spoke out about wrongdoing. It revealed that only 52 per cent of Ministry of Defence staff who had been concerned about serious wrongdoing within the past two years had raised their concerns, and only 40 per cent thought that they would not suffer reprisals if they did so. In the Department of Health, only 54 per cent of employees said they would feel confident in speaking up.

Sir Jeremy said that in future “no one should be exposed to personal and professional risk for doing what is in the public interest”. “From January, there will be a requirement for departments to provide protection and support to whistleblowers, such as access to legal and counselling services, and to monitor their welfare,” he wrote.

“There will be clear timescales for reporting to whistle-blowers how their complaints are progressing; and employees, at whatever level of the organisation, found to have victimised whistleblowers will be subject to swift and appropriate sanctions.

“As head of the Civil Service I take the question of whistleblowing extremely seriously, and will play a leading role in ensuring that departments follow the new guidance to the letter.”

Sir Jeremy’s admission and pledge to tackle the problems were welcomed by the charity Public Concern at Work, which campaigns on behalf of whistleblowers.

“This is light at the end of the tunnel stuff,” said Cathy James, the organisation’s chief executive. “At last someone senior in the Civil Service appears to be taking responsibility. But the key is ensuring not just that the right policy is in place – but that policy is being followed.”

Public-sector whistleblowers 'are still seen as snitches', admits Civil Service boss Sir Jeremy Heywood - UK Politics - UK - The Independent

Whistleblowing - GOV.UK

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