Protect Statement on Sue Gray Report out today: new reporting lines necessary but not sufficient to change the culture to one that welcomes speaking up.
The Sue Gray report, released in its full unedited form, exposes the poor state of whistleblowing in central Government with the consequences of over 80 people fined for lock down breaches.
Today’s report reiterates her earlier findings that “some staff had witnessed or been subjected to behaviours at work which they had felt concerned about but at times felt unable to raise properly.”
The inability of staff to blow the whistle on wrongdoing may have played a key role in changing a one-off breach of the rules to a full crisis. The culture where people were afraid to speak up needs to be addressed.
Sue Gray also notes: “I am reassured to see that steps have since been taken to introduce more easily accessible means by which to raise concerns electronically, in person or online, including directly with the Permanent Secretary in No 10. I hope that this will truly embed a culture that welcomes and creates opportunities for challenge and speaking up at all levels.”
Protect CEO, Liz Gardiner said:
“We rely on leaders to set an appropriate tone from the top and encouraging and supporting whistleblowing is a vital part of this.
“It is disappointing to read that staff felt unable to raise concerns, and that even when risks were flagged, parties continued. Sue Gray said that there should be easier ways for civil servants to raise concerns and it is good to see that new means have been introduced to raise concerns in No 10, including directly with the Permanent Secretary. However, channels for raising concerns are a necessary but far from sufficient response.
“We’d like to see a commitment to training staff, regular communications about the importance of speaking up, and to reviewing the new arrangements to see if they have made a difference.
“It is vital that civil servants have confidence that when they do speak out, including raising concerns about rule-breaking at the highest level, there is an effective process for investigating and addressing their concerns. A trusted and independent route to raise concerns outside each department is important, particularly if the wrongdoing is happening at the highest levels.
“It is so important that senior civil servants and politicians get a grip of this issue, not just because law breaking damages public confidence, but because civil servants wanting to raise concerns in the future may not come forward unless the culture is changed.”
Protect is the UK’s whistleblowing charity.
For further information, please contact Andrew Pepper-Parsons on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes to editors:
1 Protect’s recommended reforms include:
- Whistleblowers should have the option to raise a concern with someone outside the Civil Service and the Civil Service Commission.
- Each department should appoint a Senior Civil Servant as the Whistleblowing Champion for the department.
- A widening of the scope of what may count as whistleblowing, including improper behavior and misuse or abuse of authority.
- Proper monitoring on whether the system is effective. Individual feedback sought from whistleblowers who used the system, but also regular staff surveys should test staff awareness of and trust in the whistleblowing function. At least once a year the whistleblowing champion should report to the departmental board on the success of embedding a speaking up culture and use of the whistleblowing function by the department.
- There should be additional training provided to all those who work in the civil service and central government, and a clear and consistent message from the top that it is a duty to speak up about wrongdoing, anyone doing so will be protected from any retribution and that managers receiving such concerns have a duty to listen and respond to what has been raised.
2 Reporting breaches of the law
Under the current arrangements, civil servants have an obligation under the civil service code to comply with the law, and, if they become aware of actions by others which they believe conflict with the code, they should report to their line manager or nominated officer. They may also raise concerns about breaches of the code to the Civil Service Commission, but only after the formal internal departmental process has been exhausted.
3 Sue Gray’s initial report said:
“Some staff wanted to raise concerns about behaviours they witnessed at work but at times felt unable to do so. No member of staff should feel unable to report or challenge poor conduct where they witness it. There should be easier ways for staff to raise such concerns informally, outside of the line management chain”
4 Other problems in the civil service have been flagged by Nigel Boardman in his report on Greensill in July 2021 where he concluded that the Greensill lobbying scandal ‘might have been mitigated if there had been a robust and trusted whistleblowing process’.
The Select Committee on FCDO on the withdrawal from Afghanistan earlier this week also noted: “The degree of unhappiness among FCDO officials points not only to the policy failures around the withdrawal, but to the absence of an adequate process for officials to express concerns about policy without fearing damage to their careers”
5 Protect’s own research may hint at a problem with the whistleblowing or speak-up culture in the civil service, where only 32% of public servants know how to raise whistleblowing concerns about wrongdoing, malpractice or risk that they witness in their workplace.