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Standards watchdog restates that ethical values need to be at centre of Whitehall

Protect welcomes the new report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Leadership in Practice, as a helpful reminder that public sector organisations benefit from strong speak-up cultures and will reap the rewards of investing in high standards of behavior.

We share the concern that crises in our public services often stem from failure to follow the principles of public life.  The report notes that pressures on the Police NHS, and the need to respond rapidly to the covid crisis bring challenges, but that these should not absolve leaders from doing the right thing.

In our experience, leadership is key to the delivery of a working culture where whistleblowers are able to come forward and raise concerns.  Regardless of the context and the pressure that leaders are under, they must demonstrate the values that they want their organisation to follow, including encouraging speaking up about wrongdoing.

Too often rather than heed the message, organisations shoot the messenger. We see this on our Advice Line where last year 38% of whistleblowers who seek advice from Protect say their concerns are ignored, and 21% reported being dismissed from their role after raising concerns.  When the message is finally heard- often through the media, the scandal that follows damages public trust and, as the Committee notes, this takes a long time to rebuild.

We’re pleased to see that the Committee recognises strong speak up cultures can deliver returns on investment.  Whistleblowing is not only good for risk management, but in these times of recruitment crises in public sector, a good working culture also helps attract and retain high quality workers and strengthens the delivery of public services.

In practice, senior leaders and boards need to pay constant attention to whether their cultures are conducive to speaking up.  The Committee rightly notes that policies and schemes alone are not enough – leaders need to question and test whether their values are being lived in practice.

Protect works with hundreds of employers who are keen to benchmark their whistleblowing arrangements against good practice.  The examples in the report show that there is much to celebrate about speak up arrangements, and that we can all learn from them.

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