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Whistle-blowers are 'shockingly treated', say MPs.

Byline: David Williamson Political Editor

WHISTLE-BLOWERS are far too often "shockingly treated" and UK Government departments have failed to stamp out a "bullying culture," according to a cross-party group of MPs.

Aberconwy MP Guto Bebb and Blaenau Gwent MP Nick Smith are among the members of the public accounts committee which applauds the "remarkable bravery" of members of staff who have the courage to come forward with their concerns.

The MPs are alarmed that too many concerns go unreported and departments miss out on an "important source of intelligence to help Government identify wrongdoing and risks to public service delivery."

They warn: "Departments' own attempts at changing whistle-blowing policy and processes for the better have not been successful in modifying a bullying culture, or in combating unacceptable behaviour, such as harassment of whistle-blowers, within their organisations." According to their report, at the Ministry of Defence "only 40% of respondents felt they would not suffer reprisals if they raised a concern" - and 57% did not know a whistleblowing policy existed.

There is also concern about a "lack of effective arrangements for whistleblowers employed by private companies delivering public services with the taxpayer's pound".

The committee found a "startling disconnect between the generally good quality of whistle-blowing policies in theory and how arrangements actually work in practice."

A key recommendation is that whistle-blowers have access to legal and counselling services. They condemn the "too many cases of appalling treatment of whistle-blowers by their colleagues" and call for "swift sanctions against employees, at all levels in the organisation, if they victimise whistle-blowers."

The MPs add: "In practice, whistleblowers are not routinely informed about how their concerns have been handled and what outcomes have been reached."

Labour MP Mr Smith said: "The lesson for Government is clear - don't shoot the messenger. We've seen examples in the residential care sector that when whistle-blowers are sidelined, desperate relatives resort to hidden cameras. So the concerns of civil service employees should be addressed not shelved and used to drive up standards."

Conservative MP Mr Bebb said: "It's pretty clear that we need to make sure whistle-blowers are first of all protected, secondly valued and, third, not subsequently punished for their actions. We all accept there are mistakes and problems and waste within the public sector, and yet too often you get the impression this becomes more than somebody's job's worth...

"If Government are accepting the importance of whistle-blowers, it's going to be much more difficult for local authorities who are very tightly knit and very secretive in many ways [to] ignore then need for transparency and openness."

Committee chair Margaret Hodge said: "Whistle-blowing is a crucial source of intelligence to help government identify wrongdoing and risks to public service delivery.

"As well-publicised cases such as Hillsborough and the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust inquiry have shown, whistle-blowing has become much more high profile," she said.

Comment: Page 32

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Aug 1, 2014
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