This report, a long time in the making, was published today by the National Audit Office:
One of the recurring themes within it points to a failure by government bodies to correctly acknowledge whistleblowers, to register their issues, to act on them, and to store the associated information centrally. This important area, if approached properly, would include:
- the numbers of settlement agreements issued (formerly compromise agreements)
- the numbers of gagging / confidentiality clauses issued
- the amount of public money spent purchasing the silence of former employees
- whether departing employees involved in alleged malpractice received “clean bills of health”
- how many whistleblowers the organisation has dealt with across selected accounting periods
- the effectiveness of whistleblowing policies and the processes followed internally by organisations
In the past, this calculated practice of targeting whistleblowers for removal, and deliberately not keeping records correctly or at all has served not just power abusers in central government, but those in local authorities such as Wirral Borough Council and Cheshire West and Chester Council, who’ve forged a reputation for homing in on and branding whistleblowers and complainants as ‘out of step with the rest of the “team”‘ or ‘troublemakers’. I was targeted in this way – at both authorities.
In other words, the public interest is not being served, and those honest individuals, aiming to protect the public purse or highlight abuse or worse, are being very successfully dispensed with by abusive seniors and councillors.
There is a reference to a council in this NAO report whose senior officers abused their power and bullied and mobbed a Social Services whistleblower mercilessly. He remains unemployed and struggling to this day, six years later. For those who are not aware, this was Wirral Council. They were forced to publicly admit to calculated abuse against vulnerable people here.
(Responsible Portfolio Holder: Cllr Steve Foulkes – who ascends to the position of Mayor or 1st Citizen this June)
When the affected whistleblowers or complainants, or for that matter the public later exercise their statutory rights to access information (assuming those rights are still intact and not ‘removed’) the organisation may use the excuse that “the information is not held centrally” and will engage the Section 12 costs exemption, i.e. the scope of the work involved is broad (obviously – because that’s how it’s been planned), and would cost the data controller more than £450 (local government) or £600 (Central Government) to furnish it.
In other words, we’ve been cleverly stitched up, and the damaging information stays hidden. See this link to a 2011 survey on compromise agreements issued by English local authorities, where 35 of the 345 participants successfully engaged the increasingly reliable Section 12 ‘costs’ exemption (see graphic below).
On appeal, the Information Commissioner found in favour of ALL of these bodies, but the ‘investigatory’ process was lax to say the least. After selecting a small sample of 6 to deal with, the ICO then took their ‘solution’ and applied it globally to the other withholders, who hadn’t been investigated. Job done.
This NAO report represents progress, but the rate of progress could accurately be described as glacial.
We should also be mindful that according to The Guardian, the head of the NAO Amyas Morse may have been instrumental in undermining an investigation into a “sweetheart deal” for some very large corporations, which enabled the avoiders to dodge paying the correct amount of tax due to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. This was reputed to involve several corporations and many, many millions of pounds. With this calibre of “public servant” operating at a very senior level, what hope is there for us?
So the question still hangs in the air. Who can we trust?