It’s hard to believe that nearly two years has gone by since the Wales Audit Office issued its last Whistleblowing Update. By my reckoning that’s some eighty five new communications we’ve had through our whistleblowing arrangements in the meantime.
Last year (2013) saw another peak in whistleblowing communications – something I’ve attributed to the profile the Wales Audit Office has had with the publication of a number of critical public reports, such as the review of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board with Healthcare Inspectorate Wales and the Public Interest Reports at Caerphilly, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire councils.Unsurprisingly perhaps, the issue most frequently raised with us has been the probity of decisions relating to payments to senior officers.
Our April 2014 Whistleblowing Update reflects how much has been happening in this area over the last couple of years. The findings of the Mid Staffordshire Trust inquiry were a watershed in terms of forcing us all to re-evaluate the effectiveness of whistleblowing law and practice in the public sector.
Since then the Whistleblowing Commission has published its recommendations, the NAO has published two reports on whistleblowing and more recently the Institute of Internal Auditors has published a report on Whistleblowing and Corporate Governance. Based on my experience over the last few years I agree with the IIA’s conclusions on what needs to improve i.e:
- more training for staff members named in whistleblowing policies;
- separating the complaints/grievance procedures from the whistleblowing procedures;
- providing feedback to whistleblowers on outcomes of investigations and/or proposed remedial action.
Despite the increase in profile given to whistleblowing, the change in the law last year requiring disclosures to be made in the public interest to be protected and the introduction of fees for claims brought to Employment Tribunals will, arguably, dilute the confidence of workers to come forward with a concern. The bar in terms of protection has been raised and there are greater costs associated with seeking a remedy.
The latest statistics show a dramatic decline of 79% in the number of Employment Tribunal claims during October to December 2013, when compared with the same period in 2012. This to me suggests the need more than ever for Regulators to promote better arrangements for whistleblowing – making sure that organisations adopt the right culture and that addressing the concern is at the heart of every disclosure received.
Here at the Wales Audit Office, we are analysing the work we have been doing in the NHS on safeguarding and whistleblowing has been an important component of that work. As I write this latest blog, our local government performance auditors are busy examining the effectiveness of whistleblowing arrangements across the sector in Wales. This means we will shortly have a better picture of what whistleblowing arrangements are like in Wales. This will form an important baseline for our future work which I anticipate will involve a national study.
I have also been working with colleagues at Estyn, Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales and Healthcare Inspectorate Wales to come up with ideas on how we can work better together in responding to whistleblowing disclosures. I am also anticipating that the Wales Audit Office will have greater opportunities to work more closely with the National Audit Office, Audit Scotland and the Northern Ireland Audit Office in the near future. We certainly have a lot of common interest as Prescribed Persons in the public sector.
So if you want to catch up on two years news in five minutes I strongly recommend that you take a look at our latest edition of the WAO Whistleblowing Update – it’s hot off the press!