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MPs say UK law is failing to protect whistleblowers

WHISTLEBLOWERS who risk their careers to uncover wrongdoing within public services are being victimised by managers who nearly always escape sanction, according to a new report by MPs.

Despite the role of whistleblowers in exposing major scandals like Mid Staffs NHS trust and Hillsborough, the House of Commons public accounts committee say the law does nothing to prevent retaliation against those who step forward.

MPs on the committee report that public services have failed to take steps against managers who have victimised those who have “blown the whistle” on colleagues who are breaking the law.

They also say the UK Government has failed to bring in effective legal sanctions to recognise the public interest in whistleblowers being encouraged to come forward with information.

The committee chair Margaret Hodge said: “A positive approach to whistleblowing should exist wherever the taxpayer’s pound is spent, by private and voluntary sector providers as well as public bodies. However, far too often, whistleblowers have been shockingly treated, and departments have sometimes failed to protect some whistleblowers from being victimised.”

The report said there was a “startling disconnect” between the civil service’s strong whistleblowing policies on paper and the way they actually operated in practice, and those who did come forward had to show “remarkable courage.” The committee said whistleblowers regularly faced bullying and harassment from colleagues.

The report gave the example of Kay Sheldon, a member of the board of the Care Quality Commission, who was “victimised” by senior officials after she tried to raise concerns. Attempts to discredit her included a report being prepared on her mental health, and the committee said it appeared no one in the organisation had faced any form of sanction over her treatment.

Members of the committee have been approached individually by whistleblowers because many civil servants did not trust managers to take up their complaints.

MPs on the committee uncovered a “sweetheart deal” with Goldman Sachs, when tax officials wrote off £20m in interest payments owed by the bank. HMRC solicitor Osita Mba had written to the committee about the deal and was threatened with the sack and prosecution for doing so – but HMRC withdrew the threat after the committee revealed the case.

The first UK law on whistleblowing was introduced in 1998 with the Public Interest Disclosure Act, and this was reformed in 2013, but many MPs and lawyers criticised the changes for not going far enough, for example by matching the statutory protections offered to employees in other countries, such as the US.

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