Parrhesia Inc

Advancing Whistleblowing

PROTECT 30th Anniversary Conference

A message from our Chair Arpita Dutt

What a privilege to be part of the vibrant event that was Protect’s 30th Anniversary Conference, on 5 October 2023. Topics ranging from SLAPPS, #MeToo and the environment had the great and good of whistleblowing sharing their expertise.

In a prescient topic for anyone who has been listening to the evidence of reckless behaviour emerging from the Covid enquiry this week, my panel explored the question of ‘Standards, ethics and whistleblowing in the public sector: are the Nolan Principles dead?’. The 7 Nolan Principles are: Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership. They apply to those working in the civil service, local government, the police, courts and probation services, in the health, education, social and care services, and those in the private sector delivering public services. Surprise surprise, they also apply to MPs.

A Survation poll in 2021 of the public’s view on standards in public life found that almost 6 in 10 (59%) people do not believe the government upholds the Nolan principle of integrity, and 62% do not believe it upholds the principle of honesty.

The Nolan Principles are not laws, they are part of a series of conventions and norms, and are included in many codes of conduct. Yet although they apply, the stories of public sector whistleblowers subjected to victimisation have strikingly common themes – failed leadership, lack of accountability, lack of integrity, the closing of ranks and scapegoating. Despite numerous inquiry recommendations and employment tribunal findings it is still rare to achieve accountability, meaningful sanctions and changes in behaviour. So much for the Nolan Principles. Contrast this with the private sector where regulatory reforms appear to have achieved more accountability for the decisions made by senior managers in financial services regarding our money, than some senior NHS and local government managers have made about our health and our lives.

The phenomenon of the ‘rolling bad apple’ is common – managers moving employment without disclosing misconduct investigations. My decades long experience of litigating discrimination claims against police forces and the NHS saw errant officers being promoted up the ranks rather than held to account for unlawful conduct, and no sanctions for those who had victimised NHS whistleblowers. In financial and insurance services, managers committing misconduct or resigning in the midst of investigations and before any findings are made cannot hide behind that fact. From 2017, regulatory references became the key mechanism for factually disclosing any information relating to a senior manager’s or NED’s fitness and propriety going back 6 years, and any serious misconduct whenever it occurred. It may be time for such reforms in the public sector.

The conference enabled us to reflect on Protect’s strong legacy and look to the future of whistleblowing legislative reform and governance. At Parrhesia, we have valued our continued partnership with Protect. Together we have advocated for and influenced policy makers and government ministers on legislative reforms using our research and evidence bases. We are hopeful that our consolidated efforts will continue to benefit whistleblower protection.