Working for the public interest

The Public Interest Disclosure – or whistleblowing Act – will herald a new
age of corporate accountability

We always made clear that we favoured legislation to protect workers and
managers who blow the whistle from victimisation. I supported similar
legislation in Opposition, and am delighted that we have been able to fulfil
our commitment in government.

The Public Interest Disclosure Act came into force in July 1999. It is
legislation that was much needed.

Inquiries into major disasters of the past decade – such as the capsizing of
the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry and the fire on the Piper Alpha North Sea
oil platform – have found that workers had been aware of potential dangers or wrongdoings
but were too scared to sound the alarm.

But attitudes in the workplace are changing. I urge organisations to make
sure this continues. The legislation, which received support from business
leaders and trade unions, is helping to encourage an open working environment
where employers and employees work together to deal with wrongdoing. It
provides the basis for greater openness in the workplace where individuals can
raise issues of concern without fear of recrimination.

In the Civil Service, the timely legislation complements existing
whistleblowing procedures set out in the Civil Service Code. The code is part
of all civil servants’ terms and conditions of employment. It was felt to be
needed for two reasons – to provide a statement of the core values of the
impartial Civil Service, and to put in place the establishment of an
independent appeals procedure for civil servants to raise matters of concern
relating to issues of propriety or ethical standards.

Dealing effectively with wrongdoing and failures should be an integral part
of good working practices. All of us – whether employer or employee – have a
key role in working together to prevent problems arising and to ensure that any
failures are resolved quickly.

The Government’s role is to provide a robust legal safety net. Many of the
disasters we have experienced must not be allowed to happen again.

We have ensured that if people blow the whistle in the public interest, they
can do so in the knowledge that they are protected against action by their
employer. If action is taken, unlimited compensation can be awarded.

Whistleblowing is not about sweeping things under the carpet; it is about
accountability and responsibility. Above all, it is about making a difference.

By Ian McCartney minister of state at the Cabinet Office

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