Financial service workers who have blown the whistle on workplace wrongdoing will be the focus of  new research by Protect and law firm Slater and Gordon. The research is to find out whether the FCA’s rules on whistleblowing have made a difference to whistleblowers’ experiences.

Head of Policy at Protect, Andrew Pepper-Parsons will work with Slater and Gordon to anonymously analyse 438 whistleblowing cases from financial service sector employees who called Protect’s advice line between 2017-19”.

The research, Silence in the City 2, updates the previous report, Silence in the City published with Slater and Gordon in 2013, which looked into records of over 300 workers from the financial services sector who called our Advice Line between 2007 -2012. A key finding of this study found workers’ lack of trust in their superiors may be well-founded: with 42% reported being dismissed after raising a concern once. This compared to 24% from across all industries.

Protect Head of Policy, Andrew Pepper-Parsons said, “With new FCA rules introduced in September 2016, we  want to see whether the efforts from the regulators has had a positive effect for whistleblowers. Do they trust internal mechanisms more?  Are their concerns now taken more seriously?  Has there been a robust response from firms around reports of victimisation?

He added, “Silence in the City 2 will allow us to compare – before and after – the implementation of FCA’s rules.  While employers tell us the culture has changed, we want to get the viewpoint from the whistleblowers in the sector.”

The landscape has changed considerably since 2012, with the regulators for the financial services, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulatory Authority (PRA), issuing whistleblowing rules for banks and, more recently to insurance companies on creating and then running whistleblowing arrangements.  These measures include the following aspects:

  • Written whistleblowing procedures, with an ability for staff to report directly to the FCA or PRA
  • Emended approach to preventing victimisation in the whistleblowing arrangements
  • The appointment of a whistleblowing champion

In 2018 the FCA carried out research looking at the implementation of their rules, where they found many firms had embedded training and whistleblowing policies but many struggled to demonstrate that in practice they were taking proactive action.

Clive Howard, senior principal employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon, who will be overseeing the project, said: “The original ‘Silence in the City’ report made for very bleak reading, with little support for the majority of whistleblowers in financial services who were at best ignored and at worst, victimised, disciplined or dismissed.

“There has been much positive change in the last seven years, but we know from our clients that problems do still exist. This updated report will be an important insight into what has changed for the better, what still needs to be done and hopefully a valuable learning tool to ensure those who are brave enough to raise concerns in such a sensitive and important sector as financial services are better protected in the future”.

Silence in the City 2 will be published in March.

Protect welcomes the launch of Dr Whitford MP’s private members bill – Public Interest Disclosure (Protection) Bill as an important step towards reforming the legal protection for whistleblowers.  Protect Acting Chief Executive, Liz Gardiner, said, “We’ve been calling for legislative reform as today’s whistleblowing law is out of date, so we are delighted that Dr Whitford has proposed her bill.  Her actions and the efforts of Baroness Kramer with her Office of the Whistleblower Bill, will put more pressure on the Government to reform whistleblowing laws in the UK”.

Dr Whitford’s bill proposes stronger enforcement of whistleblowing rights and a new independent body to set, monitor and enforce standards and to carry out its own investigations.

Protect have drafted their own proposals to replace the current whistleblowing legislation, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA).

Liz Gardiner said, “We look forward to seeing the detailed content of Dr Whitford’s Bill and then to working with all those who are committed to reforming the whistleblowing legislation.”

Following the CQC investigation into West Suffolk NHS Hospital, Protect Acting Chief Executive, Liz Gardiner, said: ‘Those who raised concerns and voiced their alarm about the toxic culture at West Suffolk need to be thanked for doing so. Their whistleblowing triggered a CQC inspection and the regulator has now downgraded an outstanding hospital to one ‘requiring improvement.’

The CQC report found: ‘Not all staff felt respected, supported and valued or felt that they could raise concerns without fear. Communication and collaboration to seek solutions had not always been effectively undertaken.  An open culture was not always demonstrated. Staff that raised concerns were not always appropriately supported or treated with respect. Concerns were not consistently investigated.’

The Guardian reported how the Trust hired a fingerprint and handwriting expert company to track down a whistleblower who had anonymously tipped off a family about a medical blunder.

Protect’s Liz Gardiner added, “Protect has written to the Health Secretary expressing our deep concern about the actions taken by managers, and the appalling message this sends to staff about speaking up.  We are pleased the regulator has investigated, and we urge the Trust’s Board to review their Speak Up arrangements as a priority to ensure staff have the confidence to raise concerns in the future.”

The CQC has set out the areas for improvement and said that the Trust must “take definitive steps to improve the culture, openness and transparency throughout the organisation.”

Protect welcomes Baroness Kramer’s Office for the Whistleblower Bill which has been launched in the House of Lords (Tuesday January 28).

Protect Acting Chief Executive, Liz Gardiner, said, “Now more than ever, we need to create an independent but central body that drives better policy and standards for whistleblowing. We want to see much greater consistency in how employers and regulators deal with concerns, and how they support whistleblowers. Today’s system is complex and confusing and whistleblowers fall through the gaps.

“This Bill provides an opportunity for a new body to hold regulators and employers to account and we hope it will have powers to fine employers and regulators when they don’t address whistleblowers’ concerns, or when they victimise those who speak up to stop harm”.

Georgina Halford Hall, Chief Executive of Whistleblowers UK said, “WhistleblowersUK was delighted to assist with the content of this bill to create a new government office responsible for the protection of the rights of whistleblowers and provide a point of contact for them, which was proposed this week in the House of Lords by The Right Honourable Baroness Susan Kramer. “

Baroness Kramer, who is part of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Whistleblowing, proposes a new body – the Office for the Whistleblower which will – amongst other functions give direction to and monitor the activities of relevant bodies prescribed, serve as a point of contact for whistleblowers who wish to make a disclosure, and maintain a fund to support whistleblowers.

Protect, who have drafted new legislation to replace the current whistleblowing legislation, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA), urge support for Baroness Kramer’s bill, and its own detailed re-draft of PIDA.

Liz Gardiner said, “We look forward to discussions on the detail of the bill, and to working with all those campaigning to improve whistleblowing legislation.”

* Protect is lobbying for legal reform of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 and has drafted new whistleblowing legislation.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has published the findings of an independent review into how it dealt with concerns raised in relation to the regulation of Whorlton Hall.

Bosses at the (CQC) have been criticised in an independent report by David Noble into why it buried a critical report into Whorlton Hall hospital, a privately-run hospital in County Durham, in 2015. The report said the care watchdog missed multiple opportunities to identify abuse of patients and did not act on the concerns of its own members.

Protect Head of Policy, Andrew Pepper-Parsons said, “The CQC has acknowledged it was wrong not to make public this report in 2015. Yet, it’s a positive the CQC have now been transparent in airing failings in this way – it means that both the CQC and other organisations can learn from the experience.

“The findings into how the CQC handled the concerns raised by former CQC inspector Barry Stanley-Wilkinson is a stark reminder of the importance of feedback. What happens in practice needs to match the guarantees written in the whistleblowing or Speak Up policies. Though the CQC had a Speak Up policy that looked effective on paper, in practice it was found wanting, with no mechanisms to review how the policy operated in practice. The recommendations to improve the Speak Up process were made by the investigator, but these changes were not implemented.”

The report also found the whistleblower suffered a lot of stress and strain, in fact they had periods of sickness and eventually resigned stating they felt let down by the CQC.  Better feedback could have helped to elevate the stress.

Andrew added, “Having a written policy that meets best practice is straightforward.  But it is a common failing to not deal with whistleblowing in the correct operational way”

The report again underlines the need to reform the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA) to place a legal duty on employers to not just have a whistleblowing policy but to ensure it works effectively in practice. Our draft Whistleblowing Bill calls on employers follows existing best practice for internal whistleblowing arrangements and would require organisations to have the following things in place:

  •   Employer should establish channels where whsitleblowers can raise concerns that also ensures their confidentiality
  •   Designation of a senior individual who has responsibility for the effectiveness of reporting channels
  •   Diligent follow up to the disclosures by the designated person or department in the whistleblowing or Speak Up policy
  •   A reasonable timeframe, not exceeding three months following the disclosure, to provide feedback to the whistleblower

A story in today’s Guardian has highlighted how bosses at West Suffolk NHS Hospital demanded fingerprint samples in a bid to identify a whistleblower.

The report says that the hospital – which happens to be Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s local hospital –  used ‘bullying and intimidatory’ tactics towards doctors to seek out the identity of a whistleblower who revealed details of a botched operation to a patient’s widower.

Doctors were asked for fingerprints and handwriting and told non-compliance suggested guilt.

Protect Acting Chief Executive, Liz Gardiner said, “The scandal at West Suffolk hospital demonstrates significant failings in the Trust’s ability to handle whistleblowing concerns. Rather than focusing on the actual concern the whistleblower raised, the Trust has engaged in a witch-hunt to expose the whistleblower. Such actions will undermine staff trust and confidence in West Suffolk Hospital’s speak up arrangements. It is unlawful to subject a whistleblower to any detriment – and, if the reports are correct, senior managers’ actions may well have breached the employment rights of those who were brave enough to speak up.

She added, “Managers who have been found to have sanctioned such actions should face disciplinary action. We urge the Trust Board to urgently review its speak up arrangements and consider training all senior management in appropriate whistleblowing handling. It is imperative all staff in the NHS can speak up about wrongdoing without the fear of their confidentiality being breached.”

This week, a report by the National Guardians Office into Speaking up in the NHS in England highlighted that more than 1 in 10 whistleblowing cases were reported anonymously.

The National Guardian’s Office has published a report analysis of the data from Freedom to Speak Up Guardians to give a picture of what speaking up looks like in NHS trusts.

The report,  Speaking up in the NHS in England, reveals over the last year cases of speaking up to guardians have risen by 73 per cent, compared to 2017/18. However, the report also reveals that while low, the number of workers who indicated they were suffering detriment as a result of speaking up has remained static at five per cent. The National Guardian has said she’s disappointed in the “general and vague” responses on the action trusts are taken when detriment is reported.

Protect Acting Chief Executive, Liz Gardiner, said, “While there is much to celebrate in this report, the percentage of those reporting that they fear detriment has not changed. The NHS is not alone is speaking the right words but taking little action on detriment. We know from our advice line how prevalent victimisation of whistleblowers is – too many who raise concerns are bullied, sidelined or even forced out of their jobs.

“We’re also aware – from our training of employers across all sectors – that few organisations will discipline those responsible for treating whistleblowers badly. Staff receive a poor message about whistleblowing if they see their colleagues suffering and a reluctance by the employer to stop the bullying or victimisation.”

Of the callers to Protect’s advice line between January – December 2019, a total of 53.8% of health sector workers reported some form of negative treatment as a result of raising their concerns. The data showed of these calls 41.5% of cases were in relation to patient safety, and 20.4% over working practices.

Liz Gardiner said “Protect is campaigning to change the law to improve protections for whistleblowers, with a positive duty on employers to protect those who speak up from harm as well as fines and sanctions for employers who allow detriment to happen.  In the meantime, we’re pleased to see the National Guardian’s plans to work with Freedom to Speak Up Guardians and the Care Quality Commission to tackle the problem.”

We are looking for a new Chief Executive Office to lead Protect in supporting whistleblowers and promote whistleblowing.

Our new CEO will ensure we encourage a culture of ‘Speak Up, Stop Harm’, that we provide the best possible support to innocent people at risk. Building on our solid reputation, the CEO will act as ambassador for Protect, building impactful relationships with senior stakeholders and the media to promote our proactive approach to preventing harm. They will lobby government at national and international levels for improvements in legislation affecting public interest disclosures. They will develop new partnerships across all sectors to support employers to make UK workplaces safe. The CEO will ensure our funding continues to grow and will also inspire and support our staff team to develop their best potential.

We are looking for an inspiring leader with experience at CEO or Director level, demonstrably capable of influencing a variety of stakeholders, including the media, to challenge perceptions and secure cultural change. You will have a proven ability to build strong business development partnerships to allow us to maximise our reach, and a track record of growing and developing an organisation. You will possess strong leadership skills and be adept at guiding, coaching and supporting others at all levels to realise their potential. Crucially you will be passionate about our work and the impact we have on preventing harm. For more info visit our vacancies page

Today’s Queen’s Speech sees the UK Government commit through an Employment Bill to: ‘Protect and enhance workers’ rights as the UK leaves the EU, making Britain the best place in the world to work’.

Details on what this will mean in practice are in short supply, and that includes what the future holds for reform to whistleblowing rights.  Butf or the Government to realise the commitment of ‘making Britain the best place in the world to work ’ reforming the legal protection for whistleblowers is essential.

Whistleblowing protection in the UK stands at cross-roads.

Lauded as the gold standard of protection laws, much has changed since the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) was introduced in 1998.  New laws in Ireland, Australia and now the recently passed EU Directive highlight how whistleblowing rights in the UK are starting to fall behind internationally.  The world of work, including the needs of whistleblowers, has moved on since 1998 and PIDA has not kept pace.

A failure to reform PIDA will impact on individual whistleblowers in the workplace, and their ability to seek compensation if they are victimised, dismissed or forced out of their job. Inadequate legal protection is a problem for us all – and may deter future whistleblowing disclosures.

The Queen’s Speech makes one concrete commitment: the creation on a Single Enforcement Body which is a new regulator tasked with protecting workers’ employment rights and ensuring that exploitation of workers is deterred.

We welcome this proposal.

Earlier in the year we contributed to the consultation on creating this body, pointing out that like all regulators, the Single Enforcement Body will need to rely on the information provided by whistleblowers. With this in mind we argued the body should be prescribed under PIDA as a regulator bolstering the legal protection for whistleblowers when they raise concerns with this body.

For the Government to ensure UK whistleblowing rights keeps pace with developments internationally, PIDA will need to be reformed in these key areas:

  1. Extending the scope of the law to include all those who raise concerns in a work-related context. This would allow volunteers, those in appointed positions and others to rely on legal protections if they are victimized for raising concerns.
  2. Increasing the range of disclosures which will qualify for protection to include gross waste or mismanagement of public funds and breaches of the employer’s policies and behaviour which can adversely affect the employer’s reputation or financial stability.
  3. Setting whistleblowing standards for employers to follow. Currently, outside of health and financial services, few employers face any requirements to have policies and procedures in place. Protect would like to see the introduction of specific mandatory arrangements to ensure that employers are dealing with whistleblowing concerns effectively, and a positive duty on employers to prevent victimisation.
  4. Providing protection to individuals who raise concerns with their trade unions representatives.
  5. Setting standards for prescribed persons (BEIS recognised regulators) to promote a consistency of approach in handling whistleblowing concerns across Britain’s range of industries.
  6. Increased clarity around settlement agreements and gagging clauses.
  7. Providing legal protection to those who are mistakenly identified as a whistleblower, or who may be considering a future disclosure.
  8. The introduction of an Independent Whistleblowing Commissioner, to investigate where concerns have been mishandled, set standards for employers and prescribed persons, improve public awareness and impose fines on employers or regulators for breaches of standards.
  9. Increasing the time limit individuals have to bring a claim in the Employment Tribunal.
  10. Introducing legal aid for claimants in whistleblowing cases.

By Head of Policy, Andrew Pepper-Parsons

A review calling on a total overhaul of the UK audit profession, following a series of corporate scandals has been welcomed by Protect.

Former London Stock Exchange Chairman, Sir Donald Brydon was tasked with reviewing the auditing sector, and his report,  ‘Assess, Assure and Inform, Improving Audit Quality and Effectiveness, states: ‘Audit is not broken but it has lost its way and all the actors in the audit process bear some measure of responsibility.’

The report calls fo a redefinition of audit, separating audit work from accountancy and reinforcing its role as a public interest function

Protect Acting Chief Executive, Liz Gardiner said: “We welcome the Brydon report’s proposals, and in particular the recognition that whistleblowing protections do not go far enough. As we have seen with recent scandals from Carillion to Patisserie Valerie, all too often wrongdoing can go undetected. There needs to be far greater transparency in auditing, and better protections for those who speak up.

“Going to an auditor may be an obvious choice for a whistleblower if the concerns are financial, but auditors are not generally prescribed persons. We support Sir Donald’s call for changes to the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) to widen the categories of concern so that they include financial misrepresentation, and so that a broader list of people – including shareholders and suppliers – are protected if they raise concerns about financial wrongdoing.”

Protect is campaigning to update PIDA and has drafted a Whistleblowing Bill which has greater scope and better protections than the current law.