1 August 2014
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has published its Ninth Report of Session 2014-2015 into whistleblowing, finding that employees who voice concerns about malpractice in the workplace are treated “shockingly”.
Highlighting the importance of whistleblowing through recent high-profile cases such as Hillsborough and the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust inquiry, the report found that there was a “startling disconnect” between the quality of Whitehall’s whistleblowing policy in theory, and how it works in practice.
A survey of departmental employees found that only 40% of Ministry of Defence staff and 54% Department of Health staff felt that they would not suffer reprisals for speaking up.
Despite the “crucial source of intelligence” that whistleblowers represent, they are often victimised and threatened by their colleagues and managers who are rarely sanctioned for it – Public Concern at Work recalled only one case where a manager in the NHS was dismissed for victimising an employee who had whisteblown.
Margaret Hodge MP, the committee chair, said “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.”
Commending those who have whistleblown despite the current state of affairs for their “remarkable bravery”, she advised that “Departments must ensure that whistleblowers are protected, supported and have their welfare monitored. There should be timely reporting back to whistleblowers on how their concerns have been addressed”.
The PAC condemned large governmental payouts used to silence whistleblowers, who are often discouraged from speaking out in return for a redundancy check.
The committee also recommended that employees should have the system made clear to them through the provision of a ‘route map’ to clarify the suitable internal and external reporting routes. One third of civil service employees do not currently know how to raise a concern under the civil service code.
The report concludes, “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”.