By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist 14 February 2020
The UK political landscape has hardened immeasurably against whistleblowers.
Meaningful whistleblowing law reform is desperately needed, but vanishingly unlikely.
We now have an authoritarian, power-abusing government with links to other authoritarian governments.
Our government is attacking press freedom and judicial independence, and churning out disinformation as a matter of routine.
Our government has no limits when it comes to stoking nationalism and racism in order to win and cement power. The shameful Windrush deportations continue, as does the despicable war waged on EU citizens resident in the UK, some for decades.
We have a government that unashamedly makes and breaks promises in the same breath.
It lives and breathes cronyism and nepotism.
Because it taps into and deliberately cultivates the very worst of human nature, our government also engineers apathy to its misconduct, and callousness and indifference to the victims of its cruelty.
There is no chair reserved for whistleblowers in such a society.
Indeed, there is no room in the Cabinet for dissent, so why should plebs dare dream?
Importantly, the Johnson administration promised before the last election to honour EU standards for workers’ rights.
Predictably, a week after the general election, it published a new European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill 2019-20 from which these clauses protecting workers’ rights had been excised:
The rights excised were broadly as follows:
“workers’ rights” means rights of individuals, and classes of individuals, in the area of labour protection as regards—
(a) fundamental rights at work,
(b) fair working conditions and employment standards,
(c) information and consultation rights at company level,
(d) restructuring of undertakings, and
(e) health and safety at work.”
A great raft of relevant EU directives on matters such as Health and Safety, and prohibition against discrimination were expunged.
The UK government already resisted the EU whistleblowing directive two years ago:
“46. Before the publication of the Commission’s proposal, the Govemment [sic] expressed the view to the Commission that it would be better to use non-legislative means in the first instance to facilitate greater alignment between Member States in relation to legal protection of whistleblowers, partly on grounds of subsidiarity. This view was informed by the wide range of existing practices among Member States.”
It will hardly adopt the EU whistleblowing directive standards now.
It is not intended that workers will have a voice in the Johnson era UK.
Any claims that meaningful whistleblowing law reform will take place under the Johnson administration are at best misplaced, and more likely disingenuous.
The very best that can be hoped for is that an exemplar private Bill may be lodged with a view to the long term future, when better government returns.
However, the great danger with any venture to reform whistleblowing law under present political conditions is that it will be hijacked, perverted and that things will be made even worse for future whistleblowers.
Any such bastardised law would be cynically paraded as a triumph by government, whilst whistleblowers are suppressed ever more viciously. The spin against whistleblowers is already deadly. Why hand government yet another publicity weapon?
On 11 February 2020 the policy advisor of Protect (formerly Public Concern at Work) started a petition calling for reform of UK whistleblowing law.
Of great concern, this was badged as a joint effort with the private company WhistleblowersUK and the controversial whistleblowing All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), for which WhistleblowersUK acts as secretariat.
WhistleblowersUK receives money from US bounty hunting lawyers Constantine Cannon to act as Whistleblowing APPG secretariat.
Ominously, the Whistleblowing APPG have suggested that UK whistleblowing should be placed under the repressive control of the Ministry of Justice or the Home Office:
This is one of the most dangerous proposals by the Whistleblowing APPG. It is a bended knee to government, showing that there is no political threat in the APPG’s activities.
|The MoJ and Home Office are notorious for victimising their own whistleblowers and for extremely poor culture:
28 April 2019
“Whistleblowers say bullying culture is causing chaos in department that handles asylum claims”
“Another spoke of a culture of fear and “immense bullying” where favouritism is rife and “you’re treated like an enemy by the management if you’re not in their clique”.
“One of the managers makes sexual boasts about the number of women he’s slept with, makes violent boasts about wanting to punch people in the face, and boasts about wanting to fire people – which he has done on at least one occasion without offering that person extra support before he forced them out,” the whistleblowers claimed.”
Rather, the APPG is driven by monetisation of whistleblowing and skimming profit from misery, but without really threatening the status quo.
Emphasising the unsavouriness and financial concerns, the APPG failed to answer questions that I put it about finances and conflicts of interest, resulting in the resignation of Norman Lamb who had tried to no avail to pursue answers to these questions.
The financial harvesting of whistleblowers and whistleblowing is nakedly clear from the emergence of a document which WhistleblowersUK asks distressed whistleblowers to sign, to agree payment at £100/ hour and 5% of any winnings or settlement.
“Fees – We are a membership organisation but membership this is not a prerequisite to our working with you. We charge £100 per hour for the work that we undertake.”
“Should you be successful either at trial or by winning a settlement, we ask that you commit to making an agreed percentage donation to WBUK of 5%.”
The steep hourly rate of £100/hr is especially troubling given WhistleblowersUK’s claims that it is staffed by volunteers:
However, WhistleblowersUK’s interest in getting a percentage of large US style whistleblowing awards has been evident for years. For example:
(Ian Foxley was previously Chair of the original Whistleblowers UK Company Number 08112953 which he dissolved in April 2015 after some founding members left. He set up WhistleblowersUK Company Number 09347927 in December 2014 , later resigning as Chair but remaining as a member.)
Indeed, Constantine Cannon and other similar US bounty hunting law firms established offices in the UK as part of the gold rush discovery that US bounty hunting law could be used on foreign soil.
WhistleblowersUK’s website now sports the slogan “Winning for whistleblowers”: the language of litigation, percentages and vested financial interest in conflict instead of early resolution. All of which spells increased harm for whistleblowers.
After I challenged Protect’s continuing collaboration with WhistleblowersUK via social media, Protect wrote to me yesterday with the stated aim of reassuring me.
Protect again stressed that it did not support bounty models. It justified its joint petition with WhistleblowersUK on grounds that it was better to present a united front but importantly, it said that it would not actually signpost whistleblowers to WhistleblowersUK.
I have no reason to believe that the individual who made this last assertion was other than sincere. However, I have observed more closeness and coordination between Protect and WhistleblowersUK than Protect had admitted.
Where power has been, or appeared to be, Protect has flocked. So it was with the Fair Business Banking and Finance APPG, and then the Whistleblowing APPG.
A study of Protect’s press releases, social media activity and reciprocal statements by WhistleblowersUK, their paymasters Constantine Cannon show a steady association.
The carousel of promotion does not stop spinning.
Everyone seems anxious to be seen at the right parties.
And contrary to Protect’s denial, there has in fact been signposting by Protect to WhistleblowersUK.
For example, Protect’s comms officer posted what appears to be an un-edited comms statement by Georgina Halford-Hall CEO of WhistleblowersUK on Protect’s website. The statement made various claims about WhistleblowersUK and the Whistleblowing APPG, directed whistleblowers to WhistleblowersUK and invited whistleblowers to provide WhistleblowersUK with personal data.
Update on APPG for Whistleblowing
The APPG for Whistleblowing was set up on 10 July 2018 after a campaign by WhistleblowersUK to expose the positive benefits of making speaking up safe. We captured the imagination and support of our Politicians using cases that we had worked on to demonstrate not only the value to the economy but comprehensive value of this source of intelligence to society. Whistleblowers, or people who speak up, are valuable human capital. By engaging the imagination and the possibilities of reimagining the role of the whistleblower – as a vital element of a transparent society – we have been able to attract and engage a wide and influential cross party group of politicians. These Politicians have recognised that not only the UK but the world need to take advantage of this resource.
The APPG has demonstrated its commitment to its principles by putting whistleblowers not only at the top of the agenda but at the heart of the APPG by appointing WhistleblowersUK as its secretariat. An organisation led by and largely run by whistleblowers across many sectors. The aim of the APPG is to develop world class, global standard whistleblowing legislation, because protection should not start and end at our borders and to succeed we all need universal cooperation.
The APPG has an ambitious work plan where phase one is coming to a close and will result in the publication of our first report in June. The data will represent the voice of the whistleblower as it originates from the call to evidence comprising the hundreds of whistleblowers who participated through our survey, group sessions, emails, social media and 1:1’s. The most prolific sector is health and social care comprising nearly 50% of the responses. The most widely expressed concerns are that the legislation does not work and that too many people are excluded leaving many people not only vulnerable but with no obvious place to seek protection. The biggest stated barrier to whistleblowing is fear of retaliation. The greatest concern is that the issue which led to the whistleblowing is not addressed. These issues are echoed across all sectors. The report will reveal all…
Not distracted by Brexit or the drafting of the report, we have already embarked upon the call to evidence for phase two of our report. The APPG are meeting regulators, professional bodies and trade unions in a series of calls to evidence. So far we are both impressed and challenged by the evidence that we are gathering. Every session, as with the whistleblowers is held in private and with those speaking guaranteed confidentiality. In setting up the sessions in this way we are able to ask and expect answers to challenging questions, and demonstrate the power of a learning not blaming environment. This report will be published in January 2020.
Phase three will be a call to evidence for Employers, Academics, the legal profession and judiciary and MP’s. This report is planned to be published in June 2020.
Take the survey
If anyone would like to assist or give evidence we welcome their support. Please support the work that we are doing via our secretariat www.wbuk.org
By CEO of WBUK Georgina Halford-Hall
I pointed this example of signposting out to the Protect worker who had told me that signposting to WhistleblowersUK did not take place.
I should have added that there have been multiple complaints to the ICO about the handling of whistleblowers’ personal data by WhistleblowersUK and the Whistleblowing APPG.
But if a charity concedes in principle that it draws the line at signposting to another organisation, what is the logic of entering into a joint publicity venture which helps legitimise that organisation?
Especially in the context that an APPG member resigned in protest at WhistleblowersUK and the APPG’s unaccountability.
In my view, that is Safeguarding thrown to the winds.
What else could go wrong?
Other missteps and mis-judgment could let in even more dangerous whistleblowing law than we already have.
What is in train at present with whistleblowing law reform is a play on decency. An appeal to people who want a better world to sign up, because they mistakenly think things can only get better.
Avoid that trap. Have the courage and realism to see things as they are, hard and bitter though it is. Clear sight is what whistleblowers do best and it is what is needed now.
Forget the unicorns. Now is absolutely not the time for misplaced optimism.
We may all need to self-medicate against the political misery of our times with some gesture that makes us feel better. But the safety of future whistleblowers and their families is paramount.
Protect put it to me, regarding their joint petition, that “it is necessary to show a ground swell of support for change”.
My advice is do not support a petition that has WhistleblowersUK, its paymasters such as Constantine Cannon or their frontmen the whistleblowing APPG hitched onto its coat tails.
Instead, petition Protect to defer less to power, and to demonstrate a more coherent, internally logical Safeguarding position.
The onus is on Protect to prove its credentials and its loyalty to whistleblowers and the public interest, as opposed to governments and corporations.
Then it might be safe to unite.
In 2017, Protect’s then CEO told me that 43% of Protect’s business came from the public sector, but that Protect could not put a figure on it.
A few fast facts about US bounty hunting schemes:
- They tend to protect state financial assets, not people.
Overbill the State: Nemesis. Poor care: Mehhhh
- They operate a jackpot model, with only a few financially high value whistleblowers being rewarded, sometimes with obscene amounts (hundreds of millions), based on percentage cut of the haul recovered. But overall, the house wins.
- You can be a genuine whistleblower but not qualify for any financial award, despite suffering the usual life changing financial detriment
US bounty schemes are in short ruthless and focussed on the State’s interest.
The jackpots also support a lucrative industry of middlemen.