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Policy on Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblowing)

1. Introduction


1.1 The University of East London is committed to the highest standards of openness, probity and accountability. In conducting its affairs it takes account of the requirements of the funding bodies for the proper use of public funds, and of the standards in public life set out in the reports of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.


1.2 The Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA), effective from 2 July 1999 and updated in 2013, gives legal protection to employees against being dismissed or penalised by their employers for publicly disclosing concerns falling into certain specified categories (but not others). All staff should be aware that it is a fundamental term of every contract of employment that an employee will faithfully serve his or her employer, and will not disclose confidential information about the employer's operations, which is calculated or likely to destroy the mutual trust and confidence on which the employment relationship is based. However, where an individual discovers prima facie evidence of serious malpractice, impropriety or wrongdoing within the organisation, then the information should be disclosed without fear of reprisal.


1.3 The purpose of this policy is to offer advice to staff about how such “public” disclosure should be made to enjoy the protection of the Act and how each case will then be handled.


1.4 It should be emphasised that the policy, in accordance with PIDA, is concerned with alleged malpractice, impropriety or wrongdoing in the workplace. It is not designed to provide a route through which individuals can publicly question financial or business decisions taken by the University. The policy is also not designed to be used to obtain a rehearing of matters which have already been addressed under harassment, grievance, complaints, or disciplinary procedures.


1.5 It is hoped that members of the University will use this policy rather than air complaints or raise allegations outside the University.


1.6 This policy may not be the most appropriate means to address the concerns that you might have.  It may be appropriate to discuss this with your line manager or trade union representative as there may be a way of reaching a resolution without recourse to these procedures.  Members of the University Executive Board are fully committed to being receptive to constructive criticism and it is possible to raise issues with them without fear of reprisals.


1.7 As required by the Articles of Government, the Board of Governors shall have regard to the need to ensure that all staff of the University have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or any privileges they may have at the University.


2. Scope of Policy

2.1 Although the PIDA limits protection to employees, agency workers and self-employed workers, this policy additionally covers members of the Board of Governors, students and providers of services through a profession or business.


2.2 This policy is designed to allow employees and such other persons as are covered by PIDA or the policy (see previous paragraph) to raise concerns or disclose information at a high level, which the discloser believes in good faith to show evidence of serious malpractice. These are referred to as Qualifying Disclosures.


2.3 A number of University policies are already in place to address grievances, complaints, harassment, and discipline. The defining aspect of this policy is that it covers concerns which are in the public interest and which therefore may need to be addressed separately, even if other University policies and procedures are subsequently invoked. The concerns within the workplace which may prompt a Qualifying Disclosure may relate to one or more of the following:


  • Financial malpractice, impropriety or fraud
  • Failure to comply with a legal obligation or with the Instrument and Articles of Government of the University
  • Serious compromising of health and safety or damage to the environment
  • Criminal activity
  • Academic or professional malpractice
  • A serious miscarriage of justice
  • Improper conduct or unethical behaviour
  • Serious conflicts of interest without disclosure
  • Attempts to conceal any of the above

 

2.4 Examples (not exhaustive) within the University or higher education context could include:
a) financial or non-financial maladministration and malpractice, bribery or fraud e.g. improper record keeping or processing information (contracts, overtime or expenses claims) for personal gain or to assist others in gaining from such acts;
b) misuse of University property or facilities for personal gain or to assist others in gaining from such acts;
c) evidence of academic or professional malpractice e.g. falsifying or misrepresenting academic qualifications;
d) failure of an individual(s) to disclose a serious conflict of interest in order to influence the decision-making processes;
e) action or inaction that could lead to damaging the reputation of the University, (such as a failure to notify management of any health and safety issues which may cause injury to an individual on University premises or any breaches of relevant requirements relating to research which is governed by legislation/statutory requirements). In this latter example, if a disclosure is made in relation to potential research misconduct the University Secretary may determine that it would be more appropriate for the issue to be referred to a designated person under the Policy and Procedures for dealing with Allegations of Research Misconduct. In such circumstances the University Secretary will inform the individual who raised the concern, to whom it has been forwarded, for consideration under this other policy.

2.5 Although individuals are not expected to prove the truth of any allegation, s/he will need to demonstrate that there is a sufficient reason for making initial enquiries.

3. Safeguards

3.1 Protection

The person concerned will be afforded protection if the disclosure they make is in the reasonable belief that the information being disclosed:


i.Tends to show malpractice;


ii.is in the public interest (for disclosures made on or after 25 June 2013; and
is made to an appropriate person or body (see section 4).


3.2 Confidentiality

The University will treat all disclosures under this policy in a confidential and sensitive manner. The identity of the individual making the allegation will be kept confidential in so far as this is compatible with making an effective investigation into the allegations which are the subject of the disclosure. However, the investigation process may have to reveal the source of the information, and the individual making the disclosure may need to provide a statement as part of the evidence required.


3.3 Anonymous Allegations

This policy encourages individuals to put their name to any disclosure they make since part of its purpose is to promote openness and discourage fear of reprisals. Concerns expressed anonymously are much less powerful and far less capable of being addressed, but they will be considered at the University's discretion. 


An anonymous disclosure can be made in writing or provided orally to the University Secretary or, if the allegations relate to the University Secretary, in accordance with the provisions of section 4.1 below. However, it is also important to note that the ability to provide relevant feedback and protect against victimisation will depend on the University knowing the identity of the individual making a disclosure.


3.4 Seeking Independent Advice


An individual considering reporting a concern may wish to seek independent advice, before doing so, particularly if (ideally having first sought to address the concern under this internal procedure) they are considering making a disclosure to a regulator/prescribed person or other external body, as this must be made to the correct prescribed person or body for the issue and has additional requirements that will need to be met in order to qualify for the protections provided under the Public Interest Disclosure Act. The independent whistleblowing charity, Public Concern at Work, operates a confidential helpline. Their contact details are found at www.pcaw.co.uk. A list of the prescribed people and bodies to whom a disclosure can be made is available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/blowing-the-whistle-list-of-prescribed-people-and-bodies.
 


4. Procedure for Making a Disclosure

4.1 Initial Step


The Board of Governors has a statutory responsibility for the good governance of the University and any disclosure should initially be made to the University Secretary. If the disclosure contains allegations against the University Secretary, then the disclosure should be made to the Vice-Chancellor and President.


4.2 Process

The University Secretary will consider the information made available by the discloser and will decide if there is a prima facie case to answer. Before coming to a conclusion the University Secretary will decide whether an investigation should be conducted and if so who should undertake it and what form it should take. The appropriate body or person to conduct the investigation will depend on the nature of the matter raised and may be:


  • An internal body or person such as the Audit and Risk Committee or one or a number of its members 
  • A member of members of the University Executive Board
  • A member of staff suitably qualified to conduct an investigation (such as the University’s Counsel)
  • The police
  • An independent body

5. Investigation

5.1 Where the matter is being handled internally, the University Secretary may ask the Internal Auditor to establish all the relevant facts and to report the findings. Since the University Secretary is required to decide whether there is a prima facie case to answer, the University Secretary must not personally conduct the investigation and must retain a separation from it. The investigation will be conducted speedily.


5.2 On the basis of the findings of the initial investigation, the University Secretary will decide if there is case for taking the matter further and, if so, under what procedure. The available procedures include:

  • Disciplinary
  • Grievance
  • Complaints
  • Anti-Harassment
  • Financial Regulations

5.3 If no suitable procedure is available, an ad hoc process may be needed. In some instances, it might be necessary for the University Secretary to refer the matter to an external authority for further investigation.


6. Feedback

6.1 The University Secretary will inform the discloser of what action is to be taken, if any. If no action is to be taken then the discloser will be informed of the reason and allowed a second and final opportunity to remake the disclosure to the Chair of the Audit and Risk Committee. The Chair of the Audit and Risk Committee will have absolute discretion to decide on an appropriate form of action based on the circumstances of the case so far.

6.2 Whenever an allegation is made as part of this procedure against a named individual, that person will be told of the allegation and of the evidence supporting it, and will be allowed to respond before any investigation, or further action, is concluded. The point at which the individual is informed will depend on the nature of the case.


7. Victimisation


It is unacceptable to subject an individual to a detriment or victimisation because they have made a qualifying disclosure under this policy. All such complaints will be treated seriously and may provide grounds for grievance, disciplinary or other appropriate action. It is important to note that individual members of staff who victimise or cause a detriment to an individual who has made a disclosure can be named personally in a legal complaint and may be required to pay compensation personally to a successful claimant.


7 8. Reporting of Outcomes

A record of all disclosures and of any subsequent action will be maintained by the University Secretary for a period of three five years. A report of the outcomes of any investigation will be made to the Audit and Risk Committee in detail where the issue falls within its purview, and in summary in other cases as a means of allowing the Committee to monitor the effectiveness of the procedures. A written record should be kept of each stage of the procedure.


9. Review and Approval


The Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblowing) Policy should be reviewed and approved by the Audit and Risk Committee at least every three years.


May 2021