03 March 2015
A National Audit Office (NAO) report has highlighted inadequacies in the role of regulators in the whistleblowing process.
It stated that overall, the NAO’s report found that a gap remains between whistleblowers’ expectations and the actions of prescribed persons, and it is unlikely that it will ever be fully closed. Whistleblowers will, on occasions, continue to feel let down by the arrangements in place and this will not encourage potential whistleblowers to raise concerns with confidence.
The Role of Prescribed Persons report refers to regulators as prescribed persons who can be approached by whistleblowers should they be unable to approach their employer – it has found that there is a lack of clarity in what is expected from prescribed persons as they do not have to investigate every concern or give feedback.
The NAO also found that prescribed persons could do more to explain the roles and responsibilities to potential whistleblowers. Generally, staff working for a prescribed person do not know much about a prescribed person’s role and responsibilities. The NAO stated that raising a concern with the ‘wrong’ prescribed person could leave the whistleblower less likely to be protected under the legislation.
In addition, the NAO says that of the 17 whistleblowers who spoke on the issue, 10 said their expectations were not met. This was most commonly because they believed the prescribed person did not investigate the concern they raised. A prescribed person’s decision of what action to take can be complex, depending on factors such as the prescribed person’s remit, the gravity of the concerns raised and other intelligence held about similar concerns. Prescribed persons could do more to explain how they make a decision on what further action to take.
Cathy James, Chief Executive of the whistleblowing charity, Public Concern at Work, said: ‘The authors of PIDA had in mind the importance of independent oversight when the law was being drafted. It is shocking that 17 years after the law was enacted, staff working in these bodies do not understand the role they play. This does little to inspire confidence in the system and raises serious questions about the way that regulators approach whistleblowing concerns.’
James added that the disparity between regulators was equally worrying – ‘in education, for example, a whistleblower will be forced to navigate an extremely complex regulatory system which could mean the difference between someone speaking up or staying silent. … It’s high time that the Government takes action.’