Related Sector: Investigations, Covert, Intel & Specialist
Senior Civil Servant, Sue Gray’s report on the investigation into alleged gatherings on government premises during covid restrictions was published by the Cabinet Office on the 31 January 2022. A copy of this report can be found here.
Amongst findings that highlighted failures of leadership and various misconduct of government staff, the report highlighted the need for an overhaul of the whistleblowing process in central government.
Gray’s team found that:
‘’Some staff wanted to raise concerns about behaviours they witnessed at work but at times felt unable to do so. No member of staff should feel unable to report or challenge poor conduct where they witness it. There should be easier ways for staff to raise such concerns informally, outside of the line management chain”
This report is particularly alarming as it comes only six months after Nigel Boardman’s report published in July 2021 concluded that the Greensill lobbying scandal ‘might have been mitigated if there had been a robust and trust whistleblowing process’.
Protect, the UK’s whistleblowing charity has conducted its own research into the whistleblowing or speak-up culture in the civil service, finding that only 34% of public servants know how to raise whistleblowing concerns about wrongdoing, malpractice or risk that they witness in their workplace.
Following the release of the report, the Prime Minister announced his commitment to reviewing the Civil Service Code and Special Adviser Codes of Conduct, taking into account all the recommendations made.
Protect have publicly called for the overhaul of whistleblowing to be implemented by the Prime Minister as part of this review, and have suggested the following reforms to the current process:
- A widening of the scope of what may count as whistleblowing, including improper behaviour and misuse or abuse of authority.
- Whistleblowers should have the option to raise a concern with someone outside the Civil Service and the Civil Service Commission.
- Each department should appoint a Senior Civil Servant as the whistleblowing champion for the department.
- The staff survey should test staff awareness of and trust in the whistleblowing function. At least once a year the whistleblowing champion should report to the departmental board on the success of embedding a speaking up culture and use of the whistleblowing function by the department.
- There should be additional training provided to all those who work in the civil service and central government, and a clear and consistent message from the top that it is a duty to speak up about wrongdoing and anyone doing so will be protected from any retribution.
To bolster these reforms, they have further suggested that review of the Ministerial Code is required to ensure a zero-tolerance with regards to Ministers who fail to properly investigate and deal with reports of victimisation from staff (including those who act as whistleblowers).
It is not yet known to what extent whistleblowing will factor into the Prime Minister’s review, but what is highlighted by both the Sue Gray report and the Boardman report is that more measures need to be taken to allow civil servants to escalate their concerns about wrongdoing, risk or malpractice in central government to an independent party, without the fear of retaliation and risk to their job.
It also highlights the needs for additional whistleblowing training for all those who work in the civil service and central government so that the same rigorous process is followed across the board and that members of staff can be reassured that they will be protected should they witness something at work that requires further investigation.
Author: Meera Shah, Content Manager
This article was first published on Thursday 3rd March 2022
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