Francesca West, Chief Executive of Protect, highlights the importance of whistleblowing, and how to ensure the protection of all those working within an organisation.
The International Development Safeguarding Conference is an important opportunity to learn about the vital progress being made in the sector since the Oxfam scandal back in 2018. Protect supported Helen Evans when she blew the whistle on Oxfam and she continues to be a friend and supporter of our work.
We are grateful to be asked to be a part of the discussions taking place. We believe Protect has a key role to play in helping to create new cultures - but - and its a big but - charities and NGOs have to be willing to want to change and engage.
Considering there are approximately 168,000 charities in the UK, we work with surprisingly few. We’d like to support more, and it is very positive that whistleblowing is now seen as part of the cultural change that is needed.
We’ve been championing whistleblowing, safeguarding and transparency for over 25 years. Protect is the UK’s only whistleblowing charity, (we were formerly called Public Concern at Work) and supports more than 3,000 whistleblowing cases each year through our advice line. We also work with organisations across every sector including financial services, care, health, retail, manufacturing, and charities to instil best practice whistleblowing arrangements and we train staff and boards.
Through our advice line, and our partnership with the Charity Commission to pilot an advice line for third sector workers and volunteers, we know there is still a lot to be done to improve safeguarding and speak up/listen up cultures. Many of you will be familiar with our work, and some of you will have attended our Whistleblowing and Safeguarding Third Sector panel debate and round table in October. It was there we launched our Benchmark Third Sector pilot offering our 360 Benchmark whistleblowing tool to a cohort of charities. We are forming a working group which will be meeting in the new year to further analyse responses and shared best practice. We hope to publish a report into the findings to benefit the wider sector.
The Benchmark is like no other tool available. It does not fixate on numbers of whistleblowing cases because, as we tell organisations we work with, numbers alone mean very little. A high amount of cases does not necessarily indicate a toxic culture; it could indicate a successful speak up awareness campaign and staff feeling comfortable about raising concerns. Likewise, a small handful of cases could indicate staff are simply too fearful to speak up. Our Benchmark is a self-assessment tool focusing on three key areas - governance, staff engagement and operations.
While we can all agree that it is good to have processes, policies and audits in place, and I’m sure we will hear about many initiativesat the conference, what is key, is being able to test the effectiveness of these. Audits can be called into question and can mask wrongdoing, as we saw so evidently with Carillion. What I think is vital, is understanding its not just about having arrangements in place - but being able to regularly test they are working.