Jane Hutt, Minister for Finance and Leader of the House
Further to the short debate on whistleblowing in January last year, I am now able to provide an update on the actions taken and further developments.
Whilst Employment Policy and Legislation is not devolved, the Welsh Government seeks to ensure high standards in public and corporate life in Wales and as such actively encourages individuals who believe that there is wrongdoing in their workplace to speak out and challenge. It is important that they feel assured and confident that their disclosure will be listened to and taken seriously without fear of detriment or victimisation.
The Public Interest Disclosure Act, 1998 gives statutory protection for whistleblowers. Good practice means that organisations should do all they can to protect confidentiality of whistleblowers and to ensure that they are not adversely affected by their disclosures.
I welcome the UK Employment Relations Minister’s recent announcement that she intends to review whistleblowing legislation in light of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry to ensure that it is fit for purpose and protects those who speak out. I will be writing to the Minister to ensure that Wales is consulted.
I am also aware that the charity Public Concern at Work has set up a whistleblowing Commission to examine the existing arrangements for workplace whistleblowing and make recommendations for change. http://www.pcaw.org.uk and I urge individuals and organisations in Wales to engage in this debate.
The Welsh Government wants to provide leadership on the issue of whistle blowing in Wales. We seek to ensure that we are an exemplar of the whistleblowing process; that the bodies for which we have direct accountability have the proper processes in place; and we continue to work with the Wales Audit Office and others to promote the sharing of good practice.
In line with my commitment last year, I asked that whistleblowing was raised as an issue at the Public Service Workforce Partnership Council subgroups for the public sector and also at a meeting of a subgroup of the Economic Renewal Council. The Permanent Secretary also raised it as an issue at a meeting of the Welsh Government Sponsored Bodies.
In addition the debate raised a number of issues in relation to children, social services and health and I stated it was important that we learn from these lessons. To help facilitate this I ensured that the record of the debate was shared with senior officials across the Welsh Government.
In further developments, the membership of the Welsh Government’s internal whistleblowing panel now includes a secondee from the Wales Audit Office and the panel’s remit has been widened to include cases brought to its attention where there are concerns about the way Welsh Government funds are being applied by its partners and grant recipients.
Furthermore, the Director General Corporate Governance Committees within the Welsh Government touched on the issue of whistleblowing at a recent training event and more work will be done with them to consider how they might help to seek assurance that appropriate and robust whistle blowing procedures are in place.
In light of the Francis Report following the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry the Welsh Government has sought assurance from the Chief Executives of the Local Health Boards and NHS Trusts that they all have Whistleblowing policies in place. Further to this, the Welsh Government’s Health and Social Services Corporate Governance Committee has considered the Francis Report and the lessons that might be learned.
Whilst the Welsh Government is committed to providing leadership on the issue of whistleblowing in Wales, it would not be sensible or practical for the Welsh Government to become the whistleblowing conduit for the whole of Wales. It is the responsibility of each organisation to establish a robust, user friendly, whistleblowing policy and I would urge them all to take this responsibility seriously, as I know many of them do, so that we can achieve the high standards of public service delivery and a thriving economy that we all wish to see in Wales.