Shining a light on workplace whistleblowing

This morning I’m travelling back to North Wales from London having attended the Whistleblowing Commission’s Report launch last night in Westminster. Oddly enough I can get home an hour earlier from London compared to my usual journey from the WAO office in Cardiff.

The Whistleblowing Commission was established earlier this year to take evidence on workplace whistleblowing and make recommendations for change. The WAO provided a detailed response to the public consultation, based on our experience of whistleblowing in the Welsh public sector over the last eight years or so.

Yesterday, the Commission published its findings and hosted a launch event to help raise the profile of its recommendations with key stakeholders. The launch was at Dean’s Yard, a stone throw away from Westminster Abbey.  Having previously worked in this part of London for three years it’s always nice to get back when a suitable opportunity presents itself.  It’s also a bit more special this time of year with the Christmas lights and the after work shoppers darting around.

The event was fully subscribed and the venue was bustling. I have always admired the charitable work done by Public Concern at Work to help individuals and organisations to address concerns in the workplace in a sensible way and taking conflict and personal interest out of the process.

Public Concern at Work has certainly achieved a lot since the Public Interest Disclosure Act was introduced some 14 years ago,  but we have all seen the news reports (such as Mid Staffs NHS Trust recently) to see much more needs to be done. This is where the Commission can help; both in taking evidence and learning from others and making recommendations to the lawmakers, regulators and employers to change things for the better.

So what has the Whistleblowing Commission come up with after 6 months of evidence gathering and deliberation?

The government is asked to adopt the Commission’s Code of Practice for whistleblowing in the workplace. This Code should be taken into account by the courts and tribunals when whistleblowing issues arise. From our perspective as regulators we should encourage the adoption of the Code at our regulated bodies. Regulators should also be more transparent in how they handle whistleblowing disclosures.

The short report is well worth a read. The WAO even gets a mention in paragraph 41 of the report. I was told by one of its authors that the WAO’s consultation was well thought out and helpful to the Commission.

So what can I do next to help the WAO play its part in promoting responsible whistleblowing?  A new edition of the WAO Whistleblowing Update is being prepared and it will refer in more detail to the work of the Whistleblowing Commission as well as what the WAO has been doing in the last two years. In 2014 there will be mandatory training on whistleblowing for all WAO staff and I am also involved with improving joint working with our inspection colleagues in Wales as well as other Public Audit Forum members. I will also keep you updated on any action taken in response to the Whistleblowing Commission’s recommendations particularly in respect of the role regulators need to play.

About the Author:

Ian Hughes is the Wales Audit Office Quality and Standards Manager. He has worked for the WAO, and the Audit Commission in Wales before that, since 1988.

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