By Dr Minh Alexander Retired consultant psychiatrist 30 April 2022
Hot on the heels of widespread concern about the government’s seizure of control over the formerly independent Electoral Commission, its Anti Corruption Champion John Penrose MP is now backing a proposal to create a whistleblowing regulator that will be under the government’s control.
Penrose, a Tory backbench MP for Weston Super Mare, better known by some as the husband of Dido Harding, formerly Chair of NHS Improvement and head of the £37 billion Test and Trace programme which reportedly ran out of money.
|BACKGROUND INFORMATION ABOUT THE ANTI CORRUPTION CHAMPION This is a link to information on the Home Office website about John Penrose’s role as The PrIme Minister’s Anti Corruption Champion: https://www.gov.uk/government/people/john-penrose |
This is an article about the role of the Anti Corruption Champion based on released documents:
WHAT DOES THE UK’S ANTI-CORRUPTION CHAMPION DO?
These are article by Byline Times about the political background of the post and John Penrose’s appointment and tenure:
Where is the Government’s Anti-Corruption ‘Champion’?
Is the Government in Breach of its Own Anti-Corruption Strategy?
The Telegraph reported that Penrose was backing the Bill read into parliament on 26 April 2022 by the controversial Whistleblowing All Party Parliamentary Group and its even more controversial secretariat, the organisation WhistleblowersUK.
This Bill, which has still not been made transparently available despite numerous requests to the APPG Chair and the leadership of WhistleblowersUK, reportedly set out to establish an Office of the Whistleblower.
Some caution is needed in giving credence to the much hyped claims about an as yet invisible Bill, but according to a speech under the ten minute rule by APPG Chair Tory MP Mary Robinson on 26 April, the Bill disastrously seeks to bring the whistleblowing regulator under government control:
“[The Office of the Whistleblower] will …report back to the Government.”
This fatally undermines its independence and sinks many future whistleblowers, public sector whistleblowers in particular, who raise concerns about government failures.
A concern held by many experienced whistleblowers and respected senior academics in the field is that the Bill is a Trojan horse to allow the billion dollar US bounty hunting industry to finally break through into the UK market, after many years of repeated rebuffs.
Penrose gave a little reported interview to GB News on 26 April. I apologise for giving any oxygen to this channel but I do so here in the public interest. Penrose seemed to imply that he was speaking as the Anti Corruption Champion and that “we”, as in the government, thought the Robinson Bill a “good set of suggestions” but that alternative good ideas would be considered:
“I’m sure we’d be all ears”
The timeline of events raises some questions about political tactics and gameplay to shoe-in bounty hunting that is targeted at lucrative financial recovery from the financial sector – the real target and prize for the bounty hunting lawyers. Bounties in the US financial sector can be huge – up to hundreds of millions in some cases. A vast proportion of this goes to the lawyers.
The middlemen, the lawyers, always win. Whistleblowers and the public not so much. The bounty hunting model abandons many genuine whistleblowers, it wastes vast sums in obscene rewards to individuals that could be spent for the common good and it gives whistleblowers and whistleblowing a bad name.
Robinson’s Bill had its first reading on 26 April with a note in Hansard that the second reading would take place on 6 May, however, parliament was then prorogued.
WhistleblowersUK gave an undertaking before the first reading that the Bill would be published as soon as Robinson had made her speech. But the Bill still remains withheld despite numerous requests.
A careful examination of John Penrose’s interview to GB News on 26 April 2022 may reveal the reason why the second reading of Robinson’s Bill was curiously scheduled, and why the fabled Bill has not materialised:
“John Penrose MP 5.01: Yeah, I’m waiting for a government minister to say mañana at the dispatch box, that would be a parliamentary moment. But you’re right, it’s always a problem of timing, of getting space in the legislative timescale to do this sort of stuff. There is however, some legislation coming up, there’s an Economic Crime Bill which will we’re hoping will be coming up in the next couple of months. We could put some whistleblowing clauses in that to solve some of the problems that you and I are talking about here. So the time is now, the moment is available and so even if we can’t get a full blown Whistleblowing Bill Act stand alone, we may be able to get some of these things that I’m talking about into another piece of legislation quite soon if the government is willing. That’s the reason why I’m supporting Mary Robinson’s Bill today. And I hope it will attract some attention and perhaps get a bit of a following wind.”
So, was Robinson’s ten minute motion just a political device by the bounty hunting industry for creating some media noise, using mainly unsuspecting whistleblowers from all sectors as camouflage? When in fact the target was the rich bounties from the financial sector?
This is the full transcript of Penrose’s interview for those who are interested:
Penrose’s grasp of whistleblower detriment seems a little tenuous. Perhaps he misspoke but he seemed to suggest that whistleblowers are pursued in the Employment Tribunal by their former employers and colleagues:
“…you may find yourself being pursued for.. through an Employment Tribunal effectively for what your colleagues think of as betraying secrets”
Penrose gave excessive emphasis to the importance of “guidelines” associated with Robinson’s Bill, as if the acres of guidelines that we have had for over twenty years have ever protected any whistleblower.
There was also a hint of sympathy for the Devil in his comments that whistleblower reprisal is “understandable” and “human”, although he does acknowledge that it is “really unacceptable”.
There is an implication running through his interview comments that his focus is on crimes and the police.
This is interesting because WhistleblowersUK have in the past suggested that the Office of the Whistleblowers should be located in the Home Office, which is where John Penrose’s role as Anti Corruption Champion is also located. So who knows for how long these conversations have been going on? And what a horrendous thought: whistleblower welfare under the control of the highly suppressive Home Office.
Penrose is not alone in welcoming the Robinson Bill. A number of whistleblowers who are not from the financial sector have been gulled into supporting the Robinson Bill, when the bounty hunters have little interest in helping them. There is no money in poor healthcare or social care quality or child abuse. Some have definitely not seen the Bill. I have been sent correspondence which shows this, and thank those who shared it with me. It seems likely that many others have not seen it either. This reflects badly both on the credulity of those who have acted uncritically and also on the APPG’s undemocratic manipulation and its lack of accountability. A deep irony when whistleblowing is the issue, but perhaps not so much if this is in fact just about lucre. And of course, a few parties may be fully complicit with the venture. Some have literally been dining out on it.
Notwithstanding, if you are opposed to profiteering from whistleblowing, why not make your feelings known to the The Prime Minister’s Anti Corruption Champion, and suggest that he listens to all voices and not just industry lobbyists with a financial interest? After all, he is the Anti Corruption Champion and ought to recognise a conflict of interest when he sees one.
I have written to Mr Penrose as follows:
John Penrose MP
The Prime Minister’s Anti Corruption Champion
30 April 2022
Dear Mr Penrose,
Protecting the public interest in the reform of UK whistleblowing law, discouraging profiteering and conflicts of interest and influence by lobbyists
I write to you in your Home Office role as The Prime Minister’s Anti Corruption Champion.
I note with thanks that you have taken an interest in reform of UK whistleblowing law, which as you say is well overdue for reform.
UK whistleblowing law was in fact fatally flawed from inception over twenty years ago because it was designed to ignore whistleblowers’ concerns and it treated whistleblowing as an employment dispute rather than a matter of public protection. It placed the whole burden on whistleblowers and placed virtually no responsibility on the State.
I see that you have backed Mary Robinson’s Bill as read into parliament on 26 April 2022. I am afraid that the Bill remains unpublished despite an undertaking by her APPG secretariat to publish it on that same day, so there has been no opportunity for real debate or scrutiny. Notwithstanding., my view is that the Bill is fatally flawed by Ms Robinson’s proposal that the whistleblowing regulator should be under government control. This creates unacceptable conflicts of interest and great dangers for the many whistleblowers who raise concerns about government failures.
There are also concerns that the legislation is intended to generate litigation and business for bounty hunting lawyers, which is not a lean or efficient manner of running public services. You indicated that the government would be “all ears” regarding better ideas, and as such I refer you to the US Office of Special Counsel for federal whistleblowers which has nimble powers of redress at a stage of an earlier stage whistleblower’s journey, before all has been irreversibly laid to waste. This Office can restore unfairly lost career progression or expunge unfair disciplinary records, and allow whistleblowers to return to their lives in a way that financial compensation after the event cannot. This Office is run with a much stronger public interest ethos than the hybrid model espoused by the Robinson Bill which gives entry to private interests.
In the same vein, please see this paper, now published in International Journal of Law and Management on non-financial redress for whistleblowers in the form or redeployment and re-employment. Very large public sector employers such as the NHS have no good reason not to run a re-deployment scheme across the range of its organisations. This would ensure efficient retention of expensively trained workforce, instead of the wasteful dismissals and de-skilling that we currently see in whistleblower cases. At present there is only a very unsatisfactory post-dismissal employment-finding support scheme for NHS whistleblowers.
Please see this letter to Margaret Hodge MP which contains more details about the need for public interest principles in any reform of UK whistleblowing law, to prevent hijacking by those who would profiteer from it.
The letter references the Public Interest Protection Bill by Dr Philippa Whitford MP which was written with principles of early conflict resolution and minimisation of destructive and wasteful litigation in mind. I hope those principles would be attractive to any government interested in efficiency and in rooting out conflicts of interest that the Robinson Bill is likely to create.
May I also emphasise that it is not a want of guidelines that have failed UK whistleblowers. We have been awash with guidelines for over twenty years. What has been lacking is a legal duty to act on disclosures, a proactive legal duty to protect whistleblowers (as opposed to a facility for retrospective compensation), and fit for purpose enforcement including criminal penalties for individuals. Those are the three critical pinch points that new legislation should address.
I would be very grateful If you could set up a listening exercise to formalise receipt of evidence from all interested parties who might wish to share good ideas with you on whistleblowing law reform, with respect to your comment to GB News that you and the government would be “all ears” for good alternative proposals to those of the Whistleblowing APPG.
I do hope that the APPG’s proposals will not be inserted into the Economic Crime Bill without fair and democratic consideration of other view points, especially from those with no economic interest in the policies.
Lastly, I submitted an FOI to the Home Office (see below) essentially to find out more about the Bill that Mary Robinson and her APPG have purportedly drafted, due to the failure by the APPG to be transparent about what it is they are asking the public support. If you are minded to simply let me have a copy of the APPG Bill and some of the contextual information that I have asked for, I would be extremely grateful.
With best wishes,
Dr Minh Alexander
Retired Consultant Psychiatrist and NHS whistleblower
FOI REQUEST TO HOME OFFICE 30 APRIL 2022
From: Minh Alexander <REDACTED>
Subject: The Prime Minister’s Anti Corruption Champion’s support of a whistleblowing Bill to establish an Office of the Whistleblower
Date: 30 April 2022 at 00:12:57 BST
To: FOI Requests Home Office <REDACTED>
The Prime Minister’s Anti Corruption Champion’s support of a whistleblowing Bill to establish an Office of the Whistleblower
The Prime Minister’s Anti Corruption Champion John Penrose MP recently lent his support to a Bill proposed by Mary Robinson MP to establish and Office of the Whistleblower which was read in under the ten minute rule on 26 April.
Mr Penrose gave an interview to GB News about this matter and his support for the Bill was also reported by other media outlets.
Please can the Home Office disclose:
– What consultations took place between Mr Penrose and Ms Robinson and or the Whistleblowing APPG which she chairs, or its secretariat the organisation WhistleblowersUK, which led up to Mr Penrose’s decision to support the Bill?
Were there meetings and or correspondence? Please give details
– Please indicate at what point Mr Penrose had sight of the proposed Bill in question, and which version of the Bill informed his decision to support the proposed legislation?
– Please disclose a copy of the version of the Bill of which Mr Penrose had sight
– If Mr Penrose did not actually see the Bill proposed by Mary Robinson, please also disclose this
– Please disclose if Mr Penrose discussed the possible future location of the proposed Office of the Whistleblower with Ms Robinson and or the Whistleblowing APPG or its secretariat, WhistleblowersUK
– Please advise if any possible government Departments were identified to oversee the putative Office of the Whistleblower, for example, was the Home Office discussed as a possible location for the new whistleblowing regulator?
Dr Minh Alexander
These posts relate to concerns about the organisation WhistleblowersUK, which has a history of charging whistleblowers for services:
These posts relate to ongoing failures of NHS whistleblowing governance and the difficulties with addressing the problems: