Raising Concerns - Whistleblowing guidance

This is the latest version of the Department for the Economy's whistelblowing guidance, titled "Raising Concerns", last updated in May 2020.

Introduction

Whistleblowing, or raising a concern, relates to anyone internal to or outside the department notifying the department about danger, wrongdoing or illegality that affects others (eg taxpayers, customers, members of the public, or their employer).

The Department for the Economy (DfE) is committed to the highest possible standards of openness and accountability in the delivery of its services.  The purpose of this policy is:

  • to reassure staff, in the Department or one of its Arm's Length Bodies (ALBs), that they can raise genuine concerns about potential wrongdoing in confidence, through a clear internal reporting process, without putting their position at risk
  • to provide arrangements through which anyone who is not a member of staff can raise concerns about the proper conduct of public business by the Department or its Arms’ Length Bodies (ALBs).

A full list of the Department’s ALBs is provided at Annex 1 of this Guidance.

Types of concern covered

This policy relates to concerns about suspected malpractice, risk, abuse or wrongdoing within the Department or its ALBs. Types of concerns could include, but are not restricted to:

  • risk to children and / or vulnerable adults
  • unlawful conduct
  • abuse of public funds
  • potential fraud
  • threat to health and safety
  • a breach of the employee Code of Conduct.

Personal grievances or dissatisfaction in respect of employment issues are not considered to be whistleblowing, unless a member of staff’s particular case is in the public interest. 

Issues which affect staff personally, such as a breach of their individual employment rights or bullying, will be dealt with under the appropriate NICS HR Policy eg Dignity at Work or the Grievance Procedure.

Whistleblowing is very different from a complaint. When someone complains, they are saying that they have personally been poorly treated, for example, through receiving an unsatisfactory level of service from the department or an ALB, and the complainant is seeking redress or justice for themselves. The person making the complaint, therefore, has a vested interest in the outcome of the complaint and, for this reason, is expected to be able to prove their case. 

This policy does not deal with complaints about the Department’s performance or standards of service.  The guidance for these are set out in the DfE Complaints Procedure.  The Department’s ALBs will also have their own Complaints Procedures which will be used in respect of their performance or service standards.

Raising Concerns: Members of Departmental Staff

The Public Interest Disclosure (NI) Order 1998 provides protection for workers who raise concerns. The Order provides protection to any member of staff who makes a disclosure of information, which, in the reasonable belief of the individual making the disclosure, tends to show one or more of the following:

  • a criminal offence has been committed (eg fraud), is being committed or is likely to be committed
  • a person has failed, is failing or is likely to fail to comply with any legal obligation to which they are subject
  • a miscarriage of justice has occurred, is occurring or is likely to occur
  • the health and safety of any individual has been, is being or is likely to be endangered
  • the environment has been, is being, or is at risk of being damaged
  • the information tending to show any matter falling within any one of the preceding sub-paragraphs has been, is being or is likely to be deliberately concealed.

The NICS Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblowing) Policy summarises the provisions of the Order, listing the disclosures that qualify for protection and the protection afforded in respect of qualifying disclosures.  This is available on the HR Connect portal, under the Standards of Conduct in the HR Staff Handbook.

If you are a contractor, trainee, agency worker, volunteer or independent consultant working for, or providing advice to, the Department you are also protected under the Order and you can raise concerns in the same way as DfE staff.

If you are a member of DfE staff, and you have a concern, you should refer to the NICS Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblowing) Policy which further explains your rights and protections.

The NICS Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblowing) Policy explains that staff should usually raise concerns by talking to their line manager or someone else within the line management chain.

Managers will handle concerns in accordance with the "DfE Raising Concerns (Whistleblowing) Procedures for Staff and Managers", which can be found on the Department’s intranet site.

If, for any reason, raising a concern with your line manager or someone else within the line management chain would be difficult, you can raise the matter via the department’s dedicated mailbox, managed confidentially by the Department’s Fraud and Raising Concerns Branch, contact details as follows:

Address:       

Level 7
Adelaide House
39-41 Adelaide Street
Belfast
BT2 8FD

Email:            raising.concerns@economy-ni.gov.uk

Phone:          028 9025 7466

Direct Dial:    57466

As the Department is committed to making it easy to raise a concern which is in the public interest, individual staff who raise a genuine concern under this guidance will not be at risk of losing their job/position or suffer any form of detriment as a result, except where the individual has been complicit in the commission of the offence.

A member of staff who believes that they have suffered a detriment as a result of raising a concern can make an internal complaint in accordance with NICS procedures, eg Dignity at Work.  Alternatively, an external complaint may be made to an Industrial Tribunal.

All information is treated confidentially and held securely in line with the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulations.

Advice and information is available from DfE Fraud and Raising Concerns Branch.

More information on the law is available in the Protect (formerly Public Concern at Work) website. Protect is an independent charity that can provide impartial expert advice. They can be contacted by telephone on 020 3117 2520 or by email at whistle@protect-advice.org.uk.

Raising Concerns: Staff Members in Arm's Length Bodies

If you are a member of staff in one of the Department’s ALBs (see Annex 1), refer to the Raising Concerns or Whistleblowing Policy for your organisation and follow the guidance therein.

If you feel unable to raise a concern in line with your organisation’s policy, for example, if the issue involves senior management, you can raise the matter via the department’s dedicated mailbox, managed confidentially by the Department’s Fraud and Raising Concerns Branch (contact details above).

Please be aware that, while the department will do everything possible to maintain confidentiality, it may become necessary to involve members of your organisation in order to have a matter fully investigated and resolved.  If such contact becomes necessary, you will be advised.

While the Public Interest Disclosure (NI) Order 1998 applies to workers (as defined in the Order), the Department will endeavour, as far as possible, to apply the same principles in respect of concerns raised by non-staff members.  Concerns raised will be treated in the strictest confidence.  Where concerns raised lead to criminal proceedings, you may be required to give evidence in a court of law.

Advice or information is available from the DfE Fraud & Raising Concerns Branch. All information is treated confidentially and held securely in line with the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulations.

Raising Concerns: Non-Staff Members

Anyone external to the Department or its ALBs can raise a concern using the dedicated mailbox, managed confidentially by the Department’s Fraud and Raising Concerns branch (contact details above).

While the Public Interest Disclosure (NI) Order 1998 applies to workers (as defined in the Order), the Department will endeavour, as far as possible, to apply the same principles in respect of concerns raised by non-staff members. 

Concerns raised will be treated in the strictest confidence and all information is held securely in line with the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulations.

Advice and information is available from the DfE Fraud and Raising Concerns Branch.  .

Handling Concerns Raised

Once you have told us of your concern, we will assess what action needs to be taken.

If your concern is about possible fraud, the Department will deal with it by following our Fraud Policy and Fraud Response Plan, available on the department’s website. 

If, after initial assessment by the Fraud and Raising Concerns Branch, it is deemed that your concern falls more properly within the staff Grievance Policy (or other HR Policy), the Complaints Procedure, or that it would be best investigated by another body, for example, one of the department’s ALBs, we will tell you.

Be assured that all concerns raised will be taken seriously and investigated appropriately. All enquiries will be undertaken in a proportionate and appropriate manner.

Information and documentation relating to your concern will be restricted in order to protect the identity of all those involved, including those against whom allegations are made.

Communication

It is important that the department has as much information as possible in order to undertake enquiries.  If you have raised your concern anonymously, please be aware that this will prevent the department from contacting you with feedback and may restrict the department’s ability to fully investigate concerns.

If you have not raised your concern anonymously, the department may contact you a number of times during any investigation.

Receipt of your concern will be acknowledged by a representative of the department within 5 working days of the date on which you submit it.

You will be provided with a contact point for the investigation.

You may be offered the opportunity to meet with a representative of the department and advised whether your further participation may be needed during any investigation.

If it is necessary to alert other authorities to the case, for example, the Northern Ireland Audit Office or the Police Service of Northern Ireland, we will let you know.

Where concerns raised lead to criminal proceedings, you may be required to give evidence in a court of law.

Where appropriate, you will be provided with feedback and told when the departmental enquiries are concluded.  Please be aware that we may not be able to tell you about precise action we take where this would infringe a duty of confidence owed by us to someone else.

Outcome

Insofar as the Department is able, you will be updated on the outcome of the concern raised (whilst maintaining any confidentiality requirements).

If, as a member of staff, you are not satisfied with how your concerns have been dealt with, you can report the matter in writing to the Civil Service Commissioners for Northern Ireland (paragraph 12 of the Northern Ireland Civil Service Code of Ethics).

If, as a non-staff member, you are not satisfied with how your concerns have been dealt with, you can raise the matter, in the first instance, under the DfE Complaints Procedure.

Annex 1 - Department for the Economy Arm's Length Bodies (ALBs)

Executive Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs)

  • Belfast Metropolitan College (BMC)
  • Northern Regional College (NRC)
  • North West Regional College (NWRC)
  • Southern Regional College (SRC)
  • South West College (SWC)
  • South Eastern Regional College (SERC)
  • Stranmillis University College (Stranmillis)
  • Tourism Northern Ireland (TNI)
  • Construction Industry Training Board (CITB)
  • Invest Northern Ireland (INI)
  • NI Screen
  • Health and Safety Executive NI (HSENI)
  • Consumer Council NI (CCNI)
  • Labour Relations Agency (LRA)

North South Bodies

  • Tourism Ireland
  • InterTradeIreland

Autonomous Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)

  • St Mary’s University College (St Mary’s)
  • The Open University (OU)
  • Ulster University (UU)
  • Queen’s University Belfast (QUB)

 

 

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