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Local government procurement is big business, and in England alone costs the taxpayer £55 billion a year[1]. Even more staggering is the amount lost to fraud each year which is estimated to be between £275 million and £2.75 billion[2].

A recent report by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government Department, in line with the UK Anti-Corruption Strategy 2017 – 2022, highlights the huge impact whistleblowers have in identifying and deterring fraud, stating: The majority of cases of fraud and corruption relating to procurement come to light as a result of someone making a report or raising a concern”.

Fraud in public services isn’t just about money, it can mean that public safety is put at risk; or lead to the closure of vital services – when there simply isn’t enough funding to go around. Last year, 5% of the calls for advice received by Protect were in relation to concerns about local government.

The overarching recommendation from the report is that organisations should develop a compliant culture where whistleblowing is supported.

John Penrose MP states in the report foreword:

“The only constants are the need to bake in a counter fraud and corruption culture from top to bottom of every Council, so whistleblowers know they will be supported rather than victimised, and wrongdoers know there’s a good chance they’ll be caught and punished too.”

However, despite recognising that more must be done to support and protect those who raise concerns, the report is silent on what reforms to the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 could be considered to advance this objective.   The report states: “The Government continues to listen to stakeholders and will review the recent reforms once there is sufficient evidence of their impact.”

Protect say it will be difficult to gauge impact, when the recent reforms aren’t even enforced and Protect’s Policy Officer Laura Fatah said, “Victimisation of whistleblowers is rife, and individuals who speak up in the public interest must know they can rely on the law to protect them in times of need. Protect will continue to urge the government to reform the current legislation, highlighting the cracks that whistleblowers are falling through, and the desperate need for mandatory standards to be established for both employers and regulators.”

See full details of Protect’s legal reform campaign.

The report presents some interesting findings in relation to whistleblowing:

  • Of the 86 councils responding to the survey as part of this review, 23% reported having experienced cases of fraud and corruption within procurement in the 2017-2018 financial year
  • Whistleblowing and tip-offs: are often the source of procurement related cases. More needs to be done to encourage individuals to come forward, including from the supplier side
  • Many cases of fraud and corruption that impact procurement are discovered as a result of a whistle blower coming forward or someone raising a concern. If whistleblowing arrangements were strengthened across the board, this could encourage more individuals and business to come forward to raise their concerns
  • More needs to be done across the board to encourage individuals to come forward and to protect them from harm afterwards. Concerns may be raised by staff members, suppliers, or other individuals. To encourage reporting by these individuals, the channels available need to be accessible and both confidential and perceived to be confidential

The report found council’s particularly vulnerable to fraud and highlighted the following: 

  • Suppliers are often relied upon to provide progress reports and data to support their delivery against KPIs, sometimes self-certifying that results have been achieved and payment is due. Without appropriate oversight and monitoring by councils, this can be abused
  • The impact of deterrence needs to be taken into account, as without the threat of punitive action, council’s risk being perceived as a soft target
  • Often there is no incentive to take legal or civil action if funds have been recovered. This approach may present councils as a ‘soft touch’ where the worst sanctions is the return of funds by a supplier

If you are a local authority seeking to improve your whistleblowing arrangements and reduce the risk of fraud, you can call our business team for a confidential consultation on 020 31172520, pressing option 2, or via email business@protect-advice.org.uk

[1] National Procurement Strategy for Local Government in England 2018, LGA, page 5 https://www.local.gov.uk/national-procurement-strategy-local-government-england-2018

[2] Cabinet Office Cross-Government Fraud Landscape Annual Report 2018 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/cross-government-fraud-landscape-annual-report-2018

 

 


Whistleblowing charity Protect is calling for the Charity Commission to introduce whistleblowing rules or regulations for the sector, following serious failings at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) – which the watchdog has called ‘one of the worst examples of poor governance and oversight having a direct impact on vulnerable people’.

The Commission has issued an alert to all large complex charities about the importance of safeguarding processes, governance and whistleblowing following the inquiry into the RNIB. The failings led to repeated incidents where young people in its schools and residential homes were put at risk, or suffered harm and distress.

Protect Chief Executive Liz Gardiner said, “We welcome the Charity Commission’s reminder to charities to ensure they have effective whistleblowing or Speak Up arrangements, and the emphasis on anti-retaliation measures towards whistleblowers.  However, asking charities to be ‘mindful of the issue’  may not be enough to really drive forward change.

The time has come to introduce whistleblowing rules in this sector.  Rules which can be enforced by the regulator will help guide charities on the standards expected of them in this area and hold those falling short to account.

As we saw in our research into charity sector whistleblowing, Time To Transform,  there is more work needed in the third sector to prevent the victimisation of whistleblowers, and train staff in how to effectively act on concerns raised.”

#TimeToTransform


Protect is seeking reassurance from HMRC that whistleblowers who contact the tax authority over furlough fraud will not be faced with paying back their employers’ fraud, or face prosecution if their employer forces them to work while on the scheme.

Calls to Protect’s Advice Line have seen record-high levels, with  more than 250 calls related to furlough fraud – the single biggest issue Protect has dealt with in its 27-year history. During the three-month lockdown, from March 23-June 23, our Advice Line has handled more than 1,120 calls.

Protect has recently responded to a HMRC consultation giving new powers to HMRC under the Finance Bill.

Head of Policy Andrew Pepper-Parsons said, “Our concern is the powers could be turned against whistleblowers and should be reserved for use against those who sign off the fraud. Whistleblowers have no say, let alone any power over the decision to be furloughed and face the prospect of dismissal if they then refuse to work while being on the scheme  If the Government can reassure directors that genuine mistakes over applying for the scheme will not be prosecuted whistleblowers should be given a similar commitment.

Many calls to Protect’s Advice Line on furlough fraud have been around whistleblowers own liability in relation to the fraud.  Much like the assurances given to directors that mistakes won’t be punished, we’d like to see this extended to whistleblowers.”

Protect statistics (as of June 15)

Top three industries (92% of which are from private sector)  are from :

Hospitality (20%)

Manufacturing (12%)

Retail (12%).

Of the furlough cases received -66% – have been from organisations with less than 50 staff.

Protect has also raised with HMRC officials concerns over the closure of HMRC’s fraudand if an alternative – such as a secure live chat option – could and will be provided for people who seek reassurance about reporting fraud. We appreciate some modest changes have been made to the website since Protect’s conversation but we would like more to be done.

“The other reassurance we seek-  and it is a big unknown – with so many reports being made to HMRC we would like to know a firm plan is in place to investigate the thousands of fraud reports received by HMRC” said Andrew Pepper-Parsons.

 

What a concerned worker can do if concerned:

Check the Government Guidance

Though the guidance has changed many times it is a good resource to look at what the Government have produced for workers, and what they expect from employers. This will give any concerned worker an idea of whether what the employer is doing breaches this or not.

Consider raising it first internally

Raising the concerns externally

If you do not feel that internal channels will be effective, or if you have already raised the concern internally, you can contact HMRC on their Fraud Reporting via their online form.  You can also contact Protect for advice through our online form or by calling 020 3117 2520


Research by Protect – Silence in The City 2 –  into whistleblowers who work in finance in the City has found 70% who spoke up about workplace wrongdoing were victimised, ignored, dismissed, or felt forced to resign after whistleblowing.

The research analyses the whistleblowing cases of 352 finance workers who called the Protect Advice Line for advice about workplace wrongdoing they had witnessed between January 2017 and December 2019.

Head of Policy at Protect, Andrew Pepper-Parsons, said, “We conducted research in 2012 with law firm Slater & Gordon and our report Silence in the City looked into the experience of whistleblowing in the financial services sector.  At that time the financial crash and Libor scandal raised the question – why hadn’t whistleblowers come forward with concerns? Our research back then found a lack of trust and transparency. We decided it was time to once again scrutinise our Advice Line data and look at calls from finance workers.”

Silence in the City 2, once again published with the support of Slater & Gordon, found although more workers are raising concerns with their employer since 2012, 70% were being victimised, ignored or felt forced to resign after blowing the whistle. Discrimination and harassment cases now form part of the top six concerns raised by whistleblowers.

Key findings: (SITC – Silence in the City)

  • 70% of whistleblowers were either victimised, dismissed or resigned
  • Discrimination and harassment cases form a top concern raised by whistleblowers (possibly due to the #MeToo movement)
  • Top concerns – 19% has shifted from fraudulent or criminal activity in SITC1 which includes theft of client’s funds, expenses fraud etc. (19%), to legal or regulatory breaches e.g. mis-selling of financial products, failure to follow compliance rules around loans etc.
  • 33% of concerns were ignored – a disappointing increase from 30% in Silence in the City 2012)
  • More trust among whistleblowers to use internal whistleblowing arrangements – SITC1 found 78% of whistleblowers raised their concerns internally, i.e. with their employers, new research SITC2, shows increase to 93%.
  • Whistleblowers are 10% more likely to raise their concern a second time. In SITC1, only 20% of financial services whistleblowers raised their concern a second time, in SITC2 this has risen to 30%.

One case study in Silence in the City 2, is ‘Carl’ (whose name has been changed) explained he blew the whistle on sexual harassment, bullying and racism after more than ten colleagues, across nine different departments were affected. His life was made difficult after blowing the whistle and he felt resignation was the only way out.

He said, “I don’t in all my years think I’ve known so many grown men and grown women tell me the trauma they’ve gone through and I’m not the sort of person that upsets easily. It’s been extremely upsetting to see people abuse their position of power and misuse authority to gain benefit.”

Clive Howard, Principal Employment Lawyer at Slater & Gordon, said, “That 7 in 10 raising concerns were victimised for doing so and a third reported that their concerns were ignored is deeply troubling. The findings from Silence in the City 2 confirm our own experiences with clients, blowing the whistle is a lonely exercise in Financial Services. The whistleblower invariably is forced to act alone, raising their concern without any support from colleagues.”

Protect says whilst positive there is much more awareness and trust by employees in the internal whistleblowing arrangements put in place by employers, and more employees are whistleblowing and giving their employers the opportunity to put things right – this could very easily be reversed if organisations don’t change their behaviour towards staff who speak up.

Protect Chief Executive Liz Gardiner said, “Cultural change in financial services sector has stalled.   There needs to be more than lip-service to the stronger rules and regulations imposed on the sector – whistleblowers are speaking up, but our research suggests too many employers are not listening-up in response.  A failure to listen to the concerns raised – and failure to prevent whistleblowers being victimised – may increase the risk of harm and wrongdoing going unchecked.”

Read the report Silence in The City


We would like to express our huge thanks to our Legal Support Network – made up of lawyers and barristers –who are helping us with case work for whistleblowers who have contacted us.

Our Advice Line is extremely busy and we are experiencing unprecedented record high call levels. Our Advisers are taking calls from all sectors but the biggest concern we are dealing with are concerns around furlough fraud.

In the last few weeks we have been able to refer pro bono case work to our Legal Support Network who have been helping with the following issues:

  • Reviewing documents including applications to employment tribunals
  • Advising on cases around ‘worker status’ – looking at whistleblowing protection for contractors and other unusual employee relationships
  • Advising on merits of appeal to Employee Appeal Tribunal
  • Advising on alternative types of claim other than employment tribunal – for example pursuing a claim via the High Court
  • Advising on complex Non-Disclosure Agreements

Protect Legal Officer Hari Raithatha said, “We are extremely grateful to colleagues in our Legal Support Network for the invaluable support they have provided to whistleblowers during one of the busiest times our charity has ever experienced. The important role whistleblowing plays in keeping us all safe from harm has been highlighted during Covid-19.

“We hope that employers will listen-up when concerns are raised – but we’re grateful to the many lawyers and barristers who have kindly agreed to help.”

Protect’s Legal Support Network:

Daniel Stilitz QC of 11KBW

Mukhtiar Singh of Garden Court Chambers

Joseph England of 3PB

Chris Milsom of Cloisters Chambers

James Laddie QC of Matrix Chambers

Solicitors Paul Daniels at Keystone Law

Leigh Day Solicitors

Slater & Gordon Lawyers

Harrison Clark Rickerbys

Kingsley Napley

Landau Law

We would like to welcome Nick Siddall QC, Ed Kemp, Ben Gray, James Wynne, Sophia Berry, Kieran Wilson and Jeremy Lewis of Littleton Chambers to Protect’s Pro Bono Legal Support Network.

If further law firms or Chambers wished to lend their support and advice during the Covid 19 crisis, Protect are co-ordinating pro bono work. Please contact hari@protect-advice.org.uk


Protect’s Head of Policy, Andrew Pepper-Parsons features in the latest issue of Care Markets magazine, discussing how Covid-19 has affected the sector.

Protect, the UK whistleblowing charity, helps whistleblowers safely raise concerns about wrongdoing, abuse or poor practice. We run an advice line where whistleblowers can call us for free confidential advice about how to raise their concern. We also work with organisations to help them create strong, accessible whistleblowing cultures, and we carry out training, consultancy and organisational reviews when things have gone badly wrong.

In terms of Covid-19, our advice line has been extremely busy with record high call levels, exceeding our annual 3,000 calls. Since lockdown, 44% of our care cases have been on issues from a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) to worries about having to work when the person should be self-isolating. We’ve even had calls about care home staff being refused to bring in their own PPE. Sadly, we’ve also heard from whistleblowers who have been victimised or dismissed when they raised their concerns with their employers.

Prior to lockdown, calls from care providers made up around 11% of calls, and we’ve seen a slight rise. When a whistleblowing story features prominently in the media, as we saw with the #Metoo movement and as we have seen in the pandemic itself with the PPE crisis, it can encourage more people to speak up. But people are also scared for their job security and livelihoods so may choose to stay silent about concerns. It is vital employers reassure staff, they encourage speaking up and do not victimise staff for doing so.

If calls to our advice line are a snap-shot of the wider picture in the care sector, then it appears that a great many care homes have a poor, or worse, a non-existent whistleblowing culture. Covid-19 has shone a light on the importance of key workers who have all continued to work during the pandemic. NHS and care workers have rightly been called heroes for putting their own lives at risk to care for the sick and elderly residents in care and nursing homes.

I hope the pandemic shines a light on the importance of healthy whistleblowing policies and processes in the care sector and why it is vital to have in place a healthy ‘speak up and listen up’ culture for care staff. Staff are the eyes and ears of an organisation and can act as an early warning system of potential risk or malpractice. Staff who feel comfortable raising a concern, or whistleblowing, may possibly save lives or complex litigation down the line. But care staff need to feel supported and know they will be listened to. At Protect, in addition to our advice line, we support organisations to put in place best practice arrangements and help train those who handle whistleblowing matters. We do work with some care providers but would like to work with many more. It seems many care providers have not yet recognised the value of whistleblowing – I really hope the pandemic changes that and more operators will come to see its value too.

This blog is published in Care Markets, June 2020

 

 

 

 


With World Whistleblowers Day  here (Tuesday, 23 June), the Business Support team at Protect has been reflecting on the work of employers who are commendably continuing to strive to achieve a strong and positive speak-up culture, and how those with best practice policies could use this national focus day to signpost employees to their arrangements.

Originally created by a group of NGOs working as part of the South East Europe Coalition on Whistleblower Protection in 2019, World Whistleblowers Day was created to raise global public awareness in combating corruption.

The day is about the important role of whistleblowers in combating corruption and maintaining national security.

In these times of flux, when expectations and duties of organisations towards all their stakeholders have been constantly shifting, it is more important than ever for employers to demonstrate support for anyone who would raise a concern about wrongdoing or malpractice within their workplace.

New and very different practices and ways of working may lead to problems which employers cannot afford to miss.

Mass remote working could produce opportunities for data breaches, new reporting methods may lead to mis-reporting of finances, and new working environments may create health and safety hazards or safeguarding issues.

We have already seen so many examples of whistleblowers raising life and death issues from a medical point of view – the Wuhan doctor who raised the alarm about the virus, and health and care workers coming forward about PPE shortages.

The Protect Advice Line has been busier than ever, with 40% of our calls being Covid-19 related. Calls to us are usually from individuals who do not know where to turn, or who don’t feel confident following the procedure set out by their workplace. This could be evidence of mistrust, but could also be a sign that organisations are just not communicating their guidelines and attitude towards whistleblowing as well as they could be.

The value of speaking up to stop harm has never been clearer, and it could benefit businesses greatly to demonstrate that their support for staff by talking about World Whistleblowers Day.

Employers regularly ask us how they can talk to employees about whistleblowing without creating alarm, or suggesting problems which may not exist. World Whistleblowers Day is a great opportunity to create a positive conversation around the arrangements they have in place, and why they are so important.

Here are some top tips from our Business Support team on how to use World Whistleblowers Day to increase levels of staff engagement on the subject of speaking up:

  • Circulate your policy with a word from your chief executive. Don’t have a policy yet? Contact us and we’ll help you write one
  • Appoint a whistleblowing champion who will flag fly for your arrangements and monitor the effectiveness of your whistleblowing arrangements. Remember to communicate their details in your staff newsletter/ on your intranet
  • Test employee confidence on whistleblowing by creating a survey, listening exercises or hosting focus groups. Our team can help you with these things if you wanted to explore options that are right for you
  • Train your staff – especially department heads and line managers who may be the first point of call for all kinds of queries and concerns
  • Create ‘FAQs’ and ‘How to’ guides for staff and people managers which bring your policy to life and clearly show who the best person to contact would be

Please tell us if and how you recognise World Whistleblowers Day so that we might build case studies of employers who are leading the way with making sure that malpractice and wrongdoing is avoided, or resolved quickly, and that whistleblowers are encouraged and protected.

By Stella Sutcliffe, Business Support Manager at Protect


Protect’s pilot examining whistleblowing culture in the Third Sector has found key weak spots it believes are symptomatic across many of the 168,000 charities in England and Wales.

Chief Executive, Liz Gardiner said, “The room for improvement in the Third Sector is well documented following the Oxfam and Save the Children scandals. But in recent weeks we have once again been reminded how vital the work of charities is – and how vital speaking up about wrongdoing is to keep us all safe.

She added, “We know charities are very well aware of safeguarding, but we wanted to assess their whistleblowing culture.”

A cohort of 20 mid to large sized charities took part in the pilot between October and January this year to test their whistleblowing culture. Self-assessing using Protect’s Whistleblowing Benchmark, the charities scored themselves across governance, staff engagement and effective operations.

The results, documented in Time to Transform: Insights from Protect’s Third Sector pilot found:

  • Despite over 80% of charities claiming to have a zero tolerance approach to whistleblower victimisation –  none monitored the risk of victimisation through any aftercare process to monitor wellbeing of staff who had raised concerns
  • Only 52% of charities differentiated between whistleblowing and grievances – making it much harder for staff to know where to go with concerns and the impact on the concern being properly dealt with
  • 86% of charities failed to offer whistleblowing training to staff receiving and acting on whistleblowing concerns

“Our findings on attitudes to keeping whistleblowers’ names confidential and on victimisation are revealing.  If whistleblowers are not given assurances about confidentiality, and if no action is taken when victimisation occurs, others will not be encouraged to speak up” said Protect’s Liz Gardiner.

Stephanie Draper, CEO at international development body, BOND, said, “Whistleblowing is an essential component of safeguarding, so it’s encouraging to see organisations taking action to understand how effective their whistleblowing systems are. Many organisations have, or are in the process of appointing whistleblowing champions and teams to ensure the right arrangements are in place for staff to speak up. This will help make staff feel safe and confident that any complaints or concerns raised will be dealt with appropriately and they will not be victimised.

She added, “Getting whistleblowing right starts with having good governance and policies, but it has to go further than that and this means providing training so staff know their responsibilities and by creating a culture where speaking up is championed.”

Time to Transform was shared with ACEVO, who issued a report ‘In Plain Sight’ last year which highlighted bullying in the third sector, and who are calling on the Charity Commission to do more to investigate bullying.

ACEVO Head of Policy, Kristiana Wrixon, said, “I welcome any work that is undertaken to strengthen whistleblowing processes in charities. The findings of the pilot are interesting, however the report looks at a small group of the largest charities by income, representing a tiny percentage of the sector, so generalisations cannot be made from this information alone. I hope that this report leads to further work that will support charities of all sizes that want to strengthen their whistleblowing practice.”

Protect hope to maximise the pilot findings and work with participants to spread the word about their positive experience and benefits of the Benchmark process, but want a wider scale pilot to help raise awareness amongst the 168,000 charities in England and Wales. Protect is also hoping to work more with smaller charities helping them to adopt good whistleblowing processes.

Read the report Time to Transform

#TimeToTransform
#100charities


Survey findings of 150 health care staff by frontline lobbying group for doctors, The Doctors’ Association has highlighted the shocking treatment of NHS doctors who dared to blow the whistle on inadequate PPE supplies, which featured on BBC Newsnight this week.

The survey respondents were made up of 25% of nurses and just under 25% foundation doctors, 10% were middle grade and just under 10% were consultants. A smaller number of responses were from midwives, physiotherapist paramedics, radiographers and speech and language therapists as well as porters and security staff.

Doctors’ Association UK Law and Policy Lead, Dr Jenny Vaughan, told BBC Newsnight, “These are people who had tried the right channels. They hadn’t just gone and tried to put things on social media because they were trying to be negative. These were people genuinely raising concerns who went to the people who should have listened and felt that they either couldn’t raise a concern or weren’t listened to. So they had to find another outlet because people are putting their lives on the line.”

Just under 50% of respondents have been told not to raise concerns or speak to the press regarding COVID-19 all PPE by trust management and senior colleagues. The survey found 75% of responses had concerns about not having access to PPE as outlined in PHE guidance for the setting they working, whilst 55% reported that they had not been bullied for raising concerns – but about a third did report bullying. This was most commonly by managers, trust management, senior colleagues and in some cases the senior executive of the hospital.

The survey found 50% of our respondents did not feel confident about raising concerns locally without fear of reprisal and the same amount had this fear about raising their concerns  publicly.

Protect Chief Executive Liz Gardiner said, “The survey findings from the DAUK survey paint an extremely varied picture of the speak up culture across Trusts in the UK. We have had many calls to Protect’s Advice Line from NHS workers with concerns over PPE and some NHS staff have told us they do not feel safe speaking up, or are not aware of what support channels exist.

“It is disappointing to hear that 50% of DAUK’s survey respondents did not feel confident about raising concerns locally, and that some staff have reported bullying by senior managers.  Trust leaders need to hear when things are going wrong and what their Freedom to Speak Up Guardians say about the importance of speaking up.  Failing to listen up can undermine the whistleblowing culture of the trust and ultimately this may endanger the safety of staff and patients.”

If an NHS worker has a whistleblowing concern, NHS staff can raise the matter internally at the Trust, speak to their Freedom to Speak Up Guardian (England only), or call the NHS Whistleblowing Advice Line SpeakUp for signposting information. For NHS workers in Scotland, they can call the Alert and Advice Line. For strategic advice on how and where they can raise their concerns further, in addition to legal advice as to what their rights are in doing so, they can call the Protect Advice Line.