Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

breaking the culture of denial


Establishing a clear policy and guidelines for whistleblowing is a significant part of preventing and detecting fraud and misconduct in the workplace. It isn’t something which should be overlooked or swept under the carpet, and yet for many whistleblowing in the public sector remains an uncomfortable topic for discussion. 

In the UK we still have some way to go when it comes to addressing whistleblowing and creating internal reporting systems that enable this. While we do have a law that protects individuals, this relies on an individual enforcing an employment right and does not include guidance about what organisations should do to ensure it is safe and effective for their staff to speak up. 

Recent news stories show that those who have tried to raise concerns have often had to demonstrate remarkable courage in coming forward and putting their head above the parapet. Today, in both the public and private sectors, a lack of guidance, effective processes and protection can deter people from stepping forward to raise a concern about wrongdoing, risk or malpractice at work.

All organisations are at risk of unknowingly harbouring malpractice and so a whistleblowing policy should play a central role in any organisation, as part of normal anti-fraud and risk management controls. Having in place whistleblowing systems and processes is an integral part of good governance and compliance too. The benefits of getting this right and listening to a concern raised can help prevent disaster, avoid costly legal claims, and potentially preserve a reputation.

As can be seen by the best practice guidance in the recent Freedom to Speak Up Report in the NHS in England, having multiple channels for staff to raises concerns and oversight from the board should be the starting point for any organisation’s whistleblowing arrangements.

And to ensure that the whistleblowing policy and arrangements are as effective as possible, it is essential that organisations adopt an education programme. The onus sits with management teams to eradicate ‘grey areas’ around processes, and definitions of whistleblowing. In particular whistleblowing concerns and grievances should be clearly distinguished in the policy wording and staff trained on what this means in practice.

At the CIPFA Counter Fraud Centre we have recently launched a new whistleblowing e-learning package in collaboration with Mazars and Public Concern at Work (PCaW), the whistleblowing charity. The e-learning package is suited for use in organisations where a whistleblowing policy already exists and is aimed at all staff, to provide a comprehensive understanding of whistleblowing and why it is important.

Employees play an integral role in preventing fraud and establishing an anti-corruption culture in the workplace. Training can equip staff with the right language, skills and approach to raising concerns at work, and to facilitate necessary discussions about whistleblowing.

Our new whistleblowing package empowers staff to do the right thing if they witness any wrongdoing at work, and it covers why it is crucial to create an environment where this is possible. One of the key features of the new e-learning programme is the use of high profile examples and sector specific case studies. Using real life scenarios and examples of best practice helps people to relate to the content and enable them to think through how they can put their new found learning into practice at their workplace. 

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