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Be confident to speak up – encouraging a positive whistleblowing culture in the Civil Service

Whistleblowing Awareness Week logo 2016I’m writing today about a topic that is incredibly important to me, and indeed to the whole Civil Service – whistleblowing.

Whistleblowing is the process of raising a concern about possible past, current or future wrongdoing in an organisation or group of people. We don’t do it enough, and I want to encourage a culture that is open to hearing issues and resolving them in the proper way.

This week is Whistleblowing Awareness Week across the Civil Service. Departments have organised a range of activities to raise awareness of the process by which concerns can be raised and of the resources available to support you in doing so. You can check your intranet or contact your HR team to find out more about how your department is taking part.

I want to assure you that when you raise a concern it will be treated seriously and in confidence.

If something is concerning you, the best thing to do is to speak to your line manager or another manager you trust for advice. We encourage this as a first action because your line management should be ready to listen and engage. It is important to know that you don’t need to provide any proof in order to raise a concern, just to have a reasonable, honest belief that wrongdoing has occurred or is likely to occur.

Sometimes you may not want to raise things with your line management and prefer to discuss the issue with someone outside of your immediate work environment. That is why each department now has at least one whistleblowing 'Nominated Officer'. Their role is to support individuals (and managers) in dealing with concerns by providing advice on how the process of raising a concern works; and to help individuals to escalate issues within the department where appropriate. Nominated Officers have been trained and will treat any issues with the utmost professionalism and sensitivity. Contact details for your Nominated Officers should be available on your intranet.

But what this week is really about is creating a culture where civil servants feel empowered and confident enough to raise concerns when they feel that something is wrong. That is the sign of a healthy organisation.

I don’t pretend that this is easy, and it will certainly take time. But I can assure you that this issue has the attention of the leadership of the Civil Service, and we will be discussing how to further build this culture at this week’s Wednesday Morning Colleagues meeting for Permanent Secretaries.


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  1. Comment by Jamie posted on

    How are they planning to protect whistle bolwers?

  2. Comment by S posted on

    Bill, I did that in relation to an incident that had the likely potential to pervert the course of justice. My advice would be refuse to take part if they are asking you to engaged in any of it but I would not again follow the path of the whistleblowing process to report the incident.

  3. Comment by Bill posted on

    I am considering sending an email to the service, explaining how managers are leaving the department open to a lot of legal action, however, I am worried of reprocussions if I do.

  4. Comment by Alan posted on

    I used to work for an organisation that I know do not take any of the whistleblowing concerns seriously. I've seen rampant racism and fraud in my former organisation and that behaviour was coming from the line managers and area managers. I've seen former colleagues complain and ask for investigations to be launched only to be told they are overreacting.

  5. Comment by Ray posted on

    I think we should stop calling the reporting of wrongdoing 'whistle blowing.' The terms suggests something furtive. We should instead encourage open government and open relationships between people and departments. If public servants were confident about reporting things that are going or have gone wrong then they would just do so without any fear of reprisal and knowing that it was an important part of their regular job. It should be part of the natural cycle of communication in government and public service generally to speak openly about any concerns. Encourage a culture of openness and there would be no need for 'whistle blowing' whatever that is supposed to mean. Rather than hold onto a dirty little secret until it is time to 'blow the whistle' in a some kind of grand gesture, talk about it when the concern first arises. It would be less dramatic but much more effective in the long run.

  6. Comment by Eileen Breckenridge posted on

    When I read about all the whistle blower`s who have lost their jobs because they have had the courage to speak out, I would be very surprised if any member of the Civil Service would take up this offer despite many issues that would rattle the establishment.

  7. Comment by Leanne Moy-Burkitt posted on

    I have done some whistleblowing in the past, not concerned with where I work but what I came across outside of my organisation as a civil servant. It is all to do with ethical governance and the use of tax-payers money etc in terms of Academy schools with the DfE...whistleblowing got me nowhere.

    There was a programme on TV just a few weeks ago with Margaret Hodge that uncovered what I had witnessed, that Free schools and Academies were known to have major conflicts of interest - e.g the Head gives a contract to supplier for services to the school and the supplier happens to the be the Head's sister, uncle, friend etc, etc. Margaret Hodge had the right idea and spoke out that it needs to be nipped in the bud.

    As a concerned school governor, I wrote to the DfE who then did minor investigation, I wrote to my local MP ( no response by the way) and then I finally wrote to the Minister for Education at that time - who wrote to the DfE again to ask them to investigate and they just replied they had, and the matter was closed.

    As a civil servant of 29 years with a Commercial background I knew that things were very wrong, you report it and you are made to feel you are wrong and wasting people's time. Well can the Government please explain how the Academy/Free school agenda/governance can knowingly allow the Head of a school's Trust (who effectively employ the Head teacher) to be the Head teacher's spouse??? if there are any concerns with performance etc, etc they do not go anywhere because their spouse as Head of the Trust will kill it all dead. There is no Local Authority input as they are free from LA interventions.

    Also, how does such so called good governance allow major conflicts of interest, in that the Head teacher and her spouse own a child care business and it miraculously wins the contract time after time to provide childcare services to that very school? Employees of the child care business then become employees of the school as teaching assistants etc. Not only a case of feathering ones nest but also a case of ensuring the people around them are only people they know well and can control.

    So I must abide by the Civil Service Code, I do, I then report something that does not fit with that in terms of the ethical use of tax payers money...and nothing is done!

  8. Comment by Harry Rees posted on

    Having worked for the Inland Revenue/HMRC for over 50 years and being the father of an anaesthetist in the NHS I am extremely concerned with the apparent lack of understanding by Senior Managers of the possibility/probability that "whistle blowers" put their entire career (and often well being) at risk. People have mortgages to pay, households to run and families so there is a reluctance to "rock the boat". There seems to be a slowly growing culture change in the NHS towards more understanding-probably because lives are risk but ALL Civil Servants need cast iron guarantees that they will not suffer if they mention concerns. I appreciate that confidentiality has been mentioned but some people's past experiences may affect their willingness to report concerns.

  9. Comment by Charlotte posted on

    I do not see any nominated officers on the NOMS intranet

  10. Comment by Jonathan Davies posted on

    From a point of interest what happens when the subject of concern is sufficiently high in the organisation that whistleblowing within the organisation would be considered to be a 'courageous act'... to use Yes Minister speak.
    This happened in a previous Civil Service role and is still happening elsewhere.

  11. Comment by John Fynaut posted on

    The NHS is a good example because the loss and risk has been on the consultant whistle blower. The loss to the offender (withholder of facts was zero). The compensation to the victim for the cover up was obstructed by the guilty. The guilty suffered no loss to their career nor to their pension.

    The 23 exemptions to the FOI ensure that a culture of concealing incompetence (Chinook helicopters), dishonesty, and possibly corruption on PFI contracts will continue unabated. The lack of transparency and accountability is unchecked. "Commercial confidentiality" blocks scrutiny on tendering for contracts.

    The best example of what happens is in "The Private Eye" where the M.O.D. threatened to imprison the whistle blower because financial irregularities in a PFI contract were inconveniently brought to attention.

    Whistle blowers need clear legislation setting out rules and sanctions on both parties, so that there is real legal protection. The M.O.D case proves the point. This blog is a box ticked for Public Relations. That is all it is.

  12. Comment by Eddie Jordan posted on

    I agree that this is nothing more than tokenism. Wrong doing within the civil service is rife and it is a widely held view that it's those who raise concern who suffer as a result of trying to do the right thing. Time to get real I think!

  13. Comment by Elaine OToole. posted on

    I am glad that this awareness week has occured, because I had a very negative experience with a whislteblowing situation in my workplace. I had to resort to bringing a grievance against the department for not dealing with my complaint for almost 2 years. Only when I had made the complaint through my union representative was I taken seriously. Unfortunately I feel that I have been regarded unfavourably for my actions, I do hope that this does not occur when others are brave enough to speak up.

  14. Comment by Sarah posted on

    This is a very important statement but, at the moment, I would fear for those choosing to raise concerns in the public interest. There is a lot of anectodale evidence that, whatever the procedures, these individuals suffer where their account conflicts with that of a more senior person. I do not think that means that senior leaders are not sincere in their commitment at the level of principle. I think it is simply that all big institutions tend to protect both what has already happened in their name and the more senior over the more junior. This force overrides almost everything else and the harm to the individual can be awful.

  15. Comment by Malcom posted on

    No where in this article does it give a link to who to contact to whistle blow. Many people feel it is not safe to talk to anyone at their workplace if they are thinking of whistleblowing. I know someone who whistleblowed about something managers where doing where I work and they contacted three seperate people who work for the prison service and where supossed to be the people to contact...all three came back with the reply that what the person was complaining about was not something they could deal with.

  16. Comment by S posted on

    Unfortunately I had to make a public interest disclosure and in my personal experience there was no support network provided by my department from the start, throughout or after the process was completed. Overall the seriousness of my concerns were not recognised nor particularly well understood within the legal framework, which lead to an absurdly slow investigation. The resulting conclusion was unsatisfactory almost bordering on secrecy. There is no right of retort and only the advice I received for feedback was to speak to the very people who in my opinion were responsible for the necessary disclosure.
    Although the law protects those making a PIDA, the reality is to expect adverse consequences/ repercussions and the stigma of being considered untrustworthy following the whistleblowing action.
    Anyone considering entering into this process should think long and carefully, my advice would be to say nothing unfortunately!
    If John Manzoni wishes me to provide a detailed report of my experience I am only more then happy to provide this to his personal email.

    • Replies to S>

      Comment by Leigh Ann posted on

      I totally agree with you. Whistle blowers are not protected enough and are treated as the trouble maker. I once reported some serious wrong doing that was potentially a form of gross misconduct and I was told "we're dealing with it. if you feel you cannot work with that peraon any more then we'll move you"
      there are people, still stealing hours every week, and still manage to take flexi days off; but I will not report it this time because of the lack of support I received last time.

  17. Comment by Simon Dicketts posted on

    "Whistleblowing is the process of raising a concern about possible past, current or future wrongdoing in an organisation or group of people. We don’t do it enough, and I want to encourage a culture that is open to hearing issues and resolving them in the proper way."

    Am I alone in thinking that for the Head of the Civil Service to tell the rest of the Civil Service that it doesn't do enough whistleblowing is bordering on the surreal?

    What, precisely, are the wrongdoings about which we are not whistleblowing? Presumably, Mr Manzoni, you know that they exist in order for you to know that we are not whistleblowing about them, and if YOU know that they exist............why are YOU not whistleblowing about them, instead of leaving it to us. Do you see what I mean? Surreal.

    However, in an attempt to participate, I would like to report multiple instances of past, and indeed of current and future wrongdoing, which is taking place as we speak, and which will continue to take place over the next couple of weeks, and which will be repeated across the Civil Service in 6 months time.

    It is this; in every corner of the Civil Service, managers at all levels are grading staff as “Must Improve”, and/or placing them in the “bottom 10%”. In the majority of these cases, the managers concerned do not believe that their staff should be graded thus, but they do it anyway, because they have been lied to.

    They have been told that despite what Sir Bob (now Lord) Kerslake stated clearly and unequivocally in a blog not unlike this one, namely that there was no forced distribution of ratings, that in fact there is, and that they have to play their part in achieving it.

    This is wrongdoing. It cannot be anything else. To grade someone who has met every objective that you have set them, who has fulfilled every aspect of their job description, and probably more, as being in the bottom 10%, when you don’t believe that they ARE in the bottom 10%, and probably don't even believe that there IS a bottom wrongdoing. It’s a lot of other things as well, but I will respect the etiquette of these blogs.

    Except that............I may have got it all wrong, and maybe these hapless managers really don’t have a choice, because the Director General of Immigration Enforcement, in a blog not unlike this one, and just 11 short days ago, bemoaned equally clearly, and equally unequivocally “the forced distribution system we currently have.” Could it be that Sir Bob was being “economical with the truth”?

    I am, as always, so very, very proud to be a civil servant.

  18. Comment by Dr Minh Alexander posted on

    Mr Manzoni told Public Accounts Committee last December that the government task and finish group had met only once.

    This reflects the deep disinterest by senior officials in "Making a whistleblowing policy work".

    Many who have little interest in whistleblowing reform speak of soft, unmeasurable interventions on culture change.

    The reality is that Law changes culture if it is well conceived.

    Governments need to send a clear message that whistleblower reprisal will be effectively punished, not invite the guilty to do better.

    But I anticipate more tokenism, delay and ineffective measures for some time to come.

    The latest National Guardian for whistleblowing in the NHS made the Times front page for opining that whistleblowing governance in the NHS could be resolved "just like that" if everyone was more cheerful. She also wrote a blog on how she made smiling compulsory at 10 feet (yes, really).

    That tells you all you need to know about the progress made so far.