Christmas time: Whistleblowing and Wine

The current media frenzy where I’m reminded of the need to spend loads of money on essential compilation CDs and groaning tables of food has made me realise that year another year has flown by. A trip to Boots this Saturday to buy my first set of reading glasses confirmed that the year’s don’t pass by without change.

I’ve also started a master’s degree in Advanced Investigative Practice. The reading glasses are coming in handy to research my proposed dissertation question: ‘Are whistleblowing laws and regulations effective in reducing financial crime?

So far, I’ve found out that the global annual losses due to fraud are crudely estimated at $3.5 trillion. Also, the most frequent means by which fraud is detected is from internal tip offs i.e. whistleblowers.

It has also been argued that whistle-blowing reveals most of the white collar crime that is prosecuted in court. Organisations without effective whistleblowing arrangements are said to suffer twice as many losses from fraud than those that do.

Surely then whistleblowing is important to all of us with a stake in public services?

wrongdoing

Twelve months ago I attended the launch of the long awaited Whistleblowing Commission report which recommended a number of ways whistleblowing can be made more effective here in the UK.

There has been limited progress so far in implementing many of the Commission’s recommendations. In August 2014, the UK Public Accounts Committee published its findings on Whistleblowing in government departments. Worryingly, it concluded that the treatment of some whistleblowers has been shocking and government departments have sometimes failed to protect some whistleblowers from being victimised.

In the meantime, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills has been looking at the role UK regulators play in promoting effective whistleblowing. We contributed to the consultation exercise. Its findings are expected sometime next year but it is likely we will see further legislation compelling regulators to report annually on their activities associated with whistleblowers. This reminds me that I need to write the next WAO Whistleblowing Update after Christmas.

Here in the Wales Audit Office, our performance auditors have been looking at how well developed arrangements for responding to whistleblowers are in the local government sector. The results are a mixed bag, with a small number of authorities adopting the elements of nationally recognised good practice and investing in staff training and awareness raising. Many others are playing a game of catch up and, with our input, have recognised the actions they need to take to include better awareness raising amongst staff with no IT access and improved oversight and scrutiny arrangements. Interestingly (or perhaps worryingly?), as we have found in the NHS, the number of whistleblowing disclosures received at individual local authority level is very small.

We do have some timely good news to share with our audited bodies which should be very helpful in terms of enabling them to make the best of their endeavours to improve their whistleblowing arrangements. This week sees the publication of ‘Whistleblowing in the Public Sector – a Good Practice Guide for Workers and Employers’. The guide has been produced by the Northern Ireland Audit Office in conjunction with the NAO, Audit Scotland and the Wales Audit Office. The guide is very easy to read and is crammed full of good practice backed up with short impactful case studies. It’s a must read for both workers and managers.

If you are only going to read one whistleblowing related document this year, make sure it’s this one. Let me know if you want to borrow my new glasses.

About the Author:

Ian Hughes resizeIan 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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