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Civil Service


red-whistle-640-by-960Whistleblowers have been instrumental in bringing to light some of the most high-profile public service failures of recent times, including those connected with the Hillsborough disaster and the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the public servants who expose wrongdoing, malpractice, neglect and unethical or illegal behaviour in the services people rely on in their everyday lives. But the appalling treatment of some whistleblowers only compounds the scandals they have uncovered.

This gives a strong clue why, for every whistleblower who speaks out, there must be others who, for various reasons, have remained silent. They may have faced intimidation, ostracism, or they are contractually ‘gagged’. Others, fearful of dismissal or other sanctions and unaware of what protections they have, may understandably - if regrettably - keep quiet. And then there are those who see evidence of abuses but simply don’t know how to go about reporting them so that they can be properly investigated.

No one should be exposed to personal and professional risk for doing what is in the public interest.

The Civil Service is committed to openness and transparency - to build trust, sharpen accountability and drive improvement in services. 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.

Having proper and credible procedures in place to accommodate whistleblowers and their concerns, not only protects them but the integrity of public services. The system itself should facilitate not intimidate - and whistleblowers should have confidence that action will be taken against anyone who victimises them.

We want a culture that encourages people to raise concerns and to blow the whistle if they are not heard. We also want a culture that learns from concerns being raised and whistleblowing. In such an environment, public services can only improve, the occasion for whistleblowing will decline, and the reputation of honest, conscientious public sector workers and civil servants - the vast majority - will be preserved.

The Government has been working to address these issues, making existing policies on whistleblowing more effective and more responsive to the needs of whistleblowers, while strengthening the accountability of departments for implementing them effectively.

It is clear that any attempt to "gag” someone or buy their silence will not be tolerated. Staff must never be prevented from speaking out about failures and people do not expect their taxes to be spent on covering up failure. That is why all non-contractual severance payments need Treasury approval; and new Cabinet Office guidance on settlement agreements, to be issued shortly, will cover the circumstances where it's appropriate to use confidentiality clauses and the approvals required.

In August, the Public Accounts Committee published its report on whistleblowing. The Government has now published its response, agreeing with all but 1 of the committee’s 8 recommendations for tightening policy. Some of these recommendations have already been implemented in departmental policies.

Measures already in place include provision of detailed guidance for civil servants about how to raise concerns and who to report them to, and stronger leadership from departments to reinforce policy on whistleblowing, with regular reporting to departmental boards on the effectiveness of whistleblowing policies.

From January 2015, there will be a requirement for departments to provide protection and support to whistleblowers, such as access to legal and counselling services, where appropriate, and to monitor their welfare. There will be clear timescales for reporting to whistleblowers 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.

A playground morality persists in some quarters, seeing whistleblowers as snitches, renegades, somehow disloyal, who get the treatment they deserve. On the contrary, civil servants who report wrongdoing and culpable failures should be applauded for their loyalty to a wider principle of public service, and the Civil Service is committed to giving them the support they really deserve.

[Picture credits: Red whistle copyright: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t. Pink whistle copyright Cool Revolution, both from Flickr used under Creative Commons]

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  1. Comment by Nikki Tees posted on

    It's no different in the private sector. So not sure why the Civil Service would be any better.

  2. Comment by Jayne Brown posted on

    I worked in Job Centre and was appalled at what went on, there was a clique who had all been working there for years, and they made other peoples lives a misery. The manager told us we had to get 6 job seekers sanctioned every week so that her targets could be hit, I saw a middle aged man in tears, he had been made redundant from engineering job and was being sent to work in Pound land for 6 weeks in return for benefits. The staff even had decorating jobs, floors laid etc by job seekers they knew who they signed on. You could not say anything as the manager and her pose socialised together and you knew it would be broadcast . I left eventually because I have morals.

  3. Comment by angie dickinson posted on

    I would advise everyone to keep quiet and put up with what ever it is they have a problem with. 21 years ago I reported one of the 'worst cases of harrassment and threats' ever dealt with by the job equal ops and solicitors. 21 years later friends of those involved who are now in senior management, are still trying to get rid of me and have made my life a misery involving me being off sick for 18 months and having my confidentiality breached. Yet each time I try to get something done I am warned that I should let it all go now and move on as 'we could never prove it in a million years'. Needless to say those responsible are either left where they were or promoted and I have had to move. I am currently being targeted by an anonymous letter writer who is desperate to lose me my job.
    Senior managment do not really believe in openness. It sounds good though doesn't it!!

    • Replies to angie dickinson>

      Comment by Ray Holmes posted on

      Angie has got this spot on. I too have been the victim of harrassment and bullying in the workplace but managers all close ranks and make life a misery for anyone who tries to blow the whistle . In my 44 years of service I have never known staff morale in my Department to be so low. Much of the blame for this in my humble opinion rests squarely on the shoulders of Senior Managers who have forgotten - or perhaps have never ever known - how to make staff feel valued and wanted. They seek out our thoughts and opinions via staff surveys but this is just window dressing so they can say things like " we have consulted our staff and have listened to what they are telling us " but they never seem to want to take action to address the problems which have been brought to their attention. Is it any wonder that the North East region has the worst record for long-term sickness in my Department . I used to be really proud of my job - but now I just feel embarrassed and ashamed to tell my friends and acquainances who I work for.

  4. Comment by Peter Smith posted on

    The sanctimonious nonsense that comes out of our top civil servants is sometimes too much to take (even on Christmas Eve). Heywood says this. "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".
    I would say something like 75% of the FOIs I have asked over the last few years (and I don't ask that many) have not been answered. I'm only someone writing about procurement issues, not exactly matters of national security, but it is clear that civil servants don't want us to "shine a light". One common response is "we will be publishing that in our own time" which is an excuse to delay by up to a year in some cases until everyone has lost interest in the issue. Just not responding at all is another trick. Or "commercially confidential" or "policy advice to Ministers" - I have heard all the excuses.
    Whistleblowing is a different issue to FOI of course and as an ex senior civil servant I hope you are sincere in what you say here; because if this is applied in the way FOI is applied then I wouldn't want to be the poor whistleblower hoping that my senior colleagues really do believe in openness!

  5. Comment by Clive Nurton posted on

    On the evidence of a matter I recently brought to light, it would appear that the Civil Service whistleblowing policy is merely a cosmetic exercise, at least in respect of the organisation where I work. I put together a detailed case, with supporting documentation, which was to all intents and purposes “swept under the carpet” . Three weeks after submitting my case, I received a short e-mail advising that it had been dismissed. I was astonished that no mention was made of serious issues I had raised.
    Whilst expressing sympathy and noting that the policy of the office had been breached, the e-mail advised that the panel would not be taking any further action. The policy of the office had been breached by management at a very senior level, above that of the panel, and it is for this reason I believe the matter was so hastily dismissed.
    I note the comments about there being a requirement for departments to provide protection and support to whistleblowers, such as access to legal services, from January 2015. I do not seek any form of support in respect of my whistleblowing as I am unlikely to be victimised as a result, having transferred from the division to which it was applicable. However, my whistleblowing, which the panel admitted was in respect of a breach of policy, concerned victimisation, through this breach of policy, to which I was subject over a number of years. Surely if departments are required to provide legal support to whistleblowers, legal support should also extend to the circumstance which lead to the whistleblowing when serious issues have been covered up, as in my case.

  6. Comment by John Fynaut posted on

    Lukes' thoughts are interesting and relevant, because find words are so rarely backed by tangible and sincere actions in the Civil Service. This means the whistle blowing process is just a devious means for senior civil servants to cover up the loose ends.

    If the Senior Service was open and personally accountable to modern day standards, whistle blowing would not be needed. A good example a PFI contracts signed by Civil Servants. It shouls not need a F.O.I. disclusure after 5 years of pursuit by dedicated journalists. An intelligent, honest and competent senior civil servant does not need to hide behind one of 23 exemptions if they have conducted themselves properly.

  7. Comment by Peter Glaser posted on

    I made a complaint to a manager in District Office about my line manager at a Jobcentre who closed her part of the jobcentre in order to arrange a suprise leaving party for the CSOM. I got no feed back. Since this event the person complained about has moved from Jobcentre to HMRC being promoted from EO to HEO on her move.

    I made an anonymous complaint about an advisor who did DMAs on handpicked vunerable customers in order to get recognition and reward. No action was taken and the advisor was just moved to another office.

    a Couple of years ago I mentioned to a manager in district office that myself and members of my team were skipping lunch breaks and tea breaks in order to hit our targets. In return for my openess about my concerns I was disciplined by my line manager, his manager and their manager a CSOM, they embarrassed me and made me feel worthless. My line manager was promoted to HEO, his manager moved departments and the CSOM is still working for JCP.

    As a result of the above I have little or no faith in reporting anything fraudulant or unethical that certain colleagues get up to.

    I was told by an HEO when complaining about an EO who he line managed, that he would do nothing unless I had some written evidence to prove it. He said that If I went over his head and reported it to ministers, they would do nothing also unless I had some written evidence.

  8. Comment by Anne Davison posted on

    Whistleblowing that is investigated in-house is, in my experience, useless. The process is hampered and tainted by investigations being carried out by managers from the same departments as those the grievances are made against. There is much inequality in the work place.

    • Replies to Anne Davison>

      Comment by Clive Nurton posted on

      Anne Davison’s post, dated 19 December, was published subsequent to my post of 23 December. My post is hard evidence that what she says is entirely correct. If my whistleblowing, subsequent to a grievance and appeal, was considered outside of the Welsh Government, I am convinced that, on the basis of an impartial independent assessment of the evidence presented, the outcome would have been different.
      As things stand the whole grievance and whistleblowing policy is a complete sham. The in-house investigators are at liberty to perpetuate this sorry situation, safe in the knowledge that there is no recourse to out-house consideration of the facts. Recent employment law means that it is prohibitively expensive to refer matters to an outside tribunal. Should the victim/whistleblower resort to other methods, it is likely that he or she would be in breach of contract and face disciplinary measures.

    • Replies to Anne Davison>

      Comment by Michael Turner posted on

      Anne you hit the nail on the head. That is also my experience in my workplace.

  9. Comment by Luke Connell posted on

    I don't think all civil service guidance tells managers that whistleblowers who are unwilling participants and grievants in relation to apparent wrongdoing are no less whistleblowers than whistleblowers who are dispassionate observers of wrongdoing by others. I don't think that the civil service (including Treasury Solicitors on behalf of the civil service) deals appropriately with whistleblowers who sue while in service to compel proper investigation and obtain protection from detriments apparently imposed because of whistleblowing. While the offer of legal advice to whistleblowers from January 2015 sounds good it is worthless unless it means ongoing legal advice on procedure and merits when sueing the civil service under the Public Interest Disclosure Act. The civil service should offer assistance to afford the £1150 required to sue under the PIDA. The PIDA provisions are so expensive, complex and sown with non-suiting insolvency-threatening traps for the unwary, and Treasury Solicitors are so harsh, that a whistleblowing policy which does not assist civil servants to sue in-service is a policy which discourages whistleblowing and encourages resignation and cover-up.

    • Replies to Luke Connell>

      Comment by D Tanna posted on

      I totally agree with Luke