Further to my email of 5 July 2011, I am now in a position to respond to your request for information on the topic of whistle-blowing, set out in your email of 4 July 2011. The answers to each of your questions are set out below (I have inserted numbering for ease of reference):
1. How are individuals made aware of the guidance and the help line service that WAO provides?
The Wales Audit Office publicises its whistle-blowing arrangements in two ways. We have a whistle-blowing page on our website and this provides contact details including the e-mail address and telephone helpline number http://www.wao.gov.uk/whoweare/whistleblowing.asp. We also have a publicity leaflet that is distributed widely to public bodies and can be downloaded from our website. When the leaflet was republished in 2009 copies were also made available to public libraries as part of an initiative to raise awareness.
Our audit teams work in public bodies throughout Wales and are routinely 'on site' conducting financial and value for money audits. Should our auditors be approached by staff with whistle-blowing type concerns they advise such staff to contact us via the helpline or in writing. It is our policy for all Wales Audit Office staff to be trained on our roles and responsibilities in relation to whistle-blowing as part of a mandatory training programme.
From time to time we are approached by managers of our audited bodies to provide training to staff and non-executive members on whistle-blowing best practice, and we are pleased to provide this training when requested.
2. How many people have contacted WAO with concerns since the publication of the guidance and provision of the helpline?
Our whistle-blowing arrangements have been in place since the creation of the Wales Audit Office in 2005. Since that time we have received somewhere in the region of 150 communications from different individuals, the majority of which came through the email account email@example.com. Owing to the unclear nature of some communications, it is not possible to give a precise figure for the number of people raising concerns.
3. What assistance has been provided to these individuals and what were the outcomes?
To fully answer this question, I must firstly provide you with some background information. We are only able to substantively consider disclosures insofar as they relate to the statutory duties and responsibilities of the Auditor General and the Appointed Auditor in Local Government. The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 does not widen or enhance our statutory powers, and we have no consequent duty to instigate an audit at the request of a whistle-blower. Any audit work done in response to a concern received is done for the sole purpose of discharging our statutory functions. Therefore, strictly speaking, we do not provide 'assistance' to employees who raise concerns with us under our whistle-blowing arrangements. With regard to the 'protection' element of a disclosure we play no part in protecting an employee from detriment by the employer. Should the employee feel they have been subject to detriment either as a result of raising a concern directly with their employer or by raising it with us (or indeed both) then it is a matter for them as to whether they seek a remedy by making a claim to an Employment Tribunal.
However, in practice we provide 'assistance' by carefully explaining our remit and role to a whistle-blower. We will offer to meet with the whistle-blower if that would be appropriate or helpful. We encourage disclosures to be made internally to the employer in the first instance if this is appropriate. If we decide to consider a disclosure as part of an audit we will maintain their identity confidential from their employer if they wish (as far as this can be reasonably and legally be done) and we endeavour to provide them with feedback at the conclusion of an audit insofar as we are able to do so. If the subject matter is outside our remit we do our best to suggest alternative points of contact in other organisations. More generally we alert them to the important role Public Concern at Work plays in promoting responsible whistle-blowing.
I have summarised the range of outcomes in relation to the whistle-blowing disclosures we receive from employees:
• No further action because insufficient evidence has been made available in support of their concerns. There is an inherent tension here because we cannot act as an investigating agent to find evidence to support any allegations made. Conversely, best practice dictates that whistle-blowers should consider themselves as witnesses and not investigators - generally speaking, all they need to do to make a protected disclosure is to have a reasonable belief that wrongdoing may have occurred;
• The concerns raised fall outside of the remit of the Wales Audit Office to investigate;
• No further action because the concerns are not substantiated at audit;
• Audit action on the basis that the concerns were partly or fully substantiated at audit. This has taken the form of audit reports and recommendations, which may be to management or published more widely.
Providing details of particular cases is problematic as it raises issues of confidentiality, but if you are not content with my summary of the range of outcomes, please let me know.
4. Has WAO audited the processes that LHBs have in place to enable staff to whistle blow? If so, what was the outcome of the audit?
The structured assessment work we did last year in NHS bodies sought some high level assurance that Whistle-blowing policies and guidance to staff were in place. However, it was beyond the scope of that work to examine the efficacy of the whistle-blowing arrangements.
With regard to public bodies generally, when a disclosure is examined in detail as part of an audit, consideration is given to how the employer dealt with an internal disclosure if one was made. Should any weaknesses be identified then we will make recommendations for improvement.
I have not applied any exemptions, however if you wish to complain about my handling of your request, please email or write to me.
If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact me.