1. The Assembly Commission is committed to achieving the highest possible ethical standards in public life and in all of its practices. To achieve these ends, it encourages you to use internal mechanisms for reporting any malpractice or wrongdoing by its employees or ex-employees. This policy applies to all Assembly Commission employees, agency workers, inward secondees and, those engaged in training with the Assembly Commission. The policy also applies to those external parties wishing to raise a concern.
2. The Public Interest Disclosure (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 provides legal protection against being dismissed or penalised as a result of publicly disclosing certain serious concerns. The Assembly Commission has endorsed the provisions set out in this document so as to ensure that you should not feel at a disadvantage when raising legitimate concerns.
Purpose of the Policy
3. All of us at one time or another may have concerns about what is happening at work. Personal grievances or concerns regarding how you have been (or are being) treated at work, should be raised using the Grievance Policy and Dignity at Work Policy respectively. However, when your concern is about unlawful conduct, a possible fraud or a danger to the public or the environment, or other serious malpractice, it can be difficult to know what to do. Similarly, a member of the public may raise concerns about activities that affect the Secretariat.
4. You may be worried about raising such a concern or not be sure how best to deal with it. You may think it best to keep it to yourself, perhaps feeling it is none of your business or that it is only a suspicion. You may feel that raising the matter would be disloyal to colleagues, managers or to the Assembly. You may decide to say something but find that you have spoken to the wrong person or raised the issue in the wrong way and are not sure what to do next.
5. The purpose of this policy is to reassure you that it is safe and acceptable to speak up and that it is desirable that you highlight any concerns that have been brought to your attention by a member of the public. It will also enable you to raise your concern about such malpractice at an early stage and in the right way. Rather than wait for proof, we would prefer you to raise the matter when it is still a concern.
6. We have implemented this policy for you to raise any concern where the interests of others or the organisation itself are at risk.
7. If your concern is about possible fraud or bribery, you may also wish to refer to the Commission’s Fraud Prevention Policy, Bribery Prevention Policy and Bribery & Fraud Response Plan. Hard copies of these documents can be obtained from the Finance Office.
Our Assurances to you
8. We are committed to making whistleblowing work and to investigating bona fide concerns raised by members of the public. If you raise a genuine concern under these arrangements, you will not be at risk of losing your job or suffering any form of retribution as a result. Provided you are acting in good faith, it does not matter if you are mistaken. Of course, this assurance does not extend to someone who maliciously raises a matter they know to be untrue and if you are an employee of the Assembly Commission this will be treated as misconduct and you will be subject to disciplinary action.
9. We will not tolerate the harassment or victimisation of anyone who raises a genuine concern and with these assurances, we hope you will raise your concern or pass on a concern communicated to you openly. However, we recognise that there may be circumstances when you would prefer to speak to someone in confidence first. If this is the case, please say so at the outset. If you ask us not to disclose your identity, we will not do so without your consent unless it hinders or frustrates any investigation or is required by law. You should understand that there may be times when we are unable to resolve a concern without revealing your identity, for example where your personal evidence is essential. In such cases, we will discuss with you whether and how the matter can best proceed.
10. Remember that if you do not tell us who you are, it will be much more difficult for us to look into the matter, to protect your position, or to give you feedback. Concerns expressed anonymously are much less credible, but they may be considered at the discretion of the Assembly Commission. In exercising its discretion, the Commission will take into account the seriousness of the concerns raised, the credibility of the concerns and the likelihood of confirming the concerns from attributable sources. Accordingly, while we will consider anonymous reports, these arrangements are not well suited to deal with concerns raised anonymously. If a member of the public wishes to raise concerns anonymously they should, where possible, be informed of the above difficulties. However, anonymous disclosures are much preferred to silence over serious wrongdoings.
11. If you are unsure about raising a concern you can get independent advice from the charity, Public Concern as Work (see contact details under Independent Advice).
How to raise a concern internally
12. Please remember that you do not need to have firm evidence of malpractice before raising a concern. However you will be required to explain as fully as you can the grounds or circumstances that gave rise to your concern.
13. If you have a concern about malpractice or if a concern of malpractice has been made to you by a member of the public, we hope you will feel able to raise it first with your line manager or with their immediate manager. This can be done orally or in writing.
14. If, for whatever reason, you feel that raising it with your line manager or their immediate manager is not appropriate or it has not worked, please raise the matter with one of the following post-holders: the Director of Legal & Governance, the Head of Human Resources or a Clerk Assistant. If you are not an employee of the Assembly Commission, then please contact the Assembly’s Head of Human Resources to raise your concern.
15. If you want to raise the matter in confidence, please say so at the outset so that appropriate arrangements can be made.
16. If these channels have been followed and you believe there is an ongoing risk, or you feel the matter is so serious that you cannot discuss it with any of the above, you can raise your concern directly with the Clerk/Chief Executive.
How we will handle the matter
17. Once you have told us of your concern or the concern communicated to you, we will look into it to assess what action should be taken. This may range from an informal review to a full, formal investigation. In all instances where a member of the public has raised concerns, the initial review will seek to make an informed assessment of the likelihood of the concerns occurring before proceeding.
18. Where it is decided that a formal investigation is necessary the overall responsibility for the investigation will lie with a nominated “investigation officer.” If possible, we will try to match the skills of the investigation officer with the nature of the concern e.g. an investigation officer experienced in financial matters may deal with concerns relating to fraud. In any event, we will tell you who is dealing with the matter, how you can contact him or her, and whether your further assistance may be needed. If you request, we will write to you summarising your concern and setting out how we propose to handle it. How your concern is treated e.g. informal review or formal investigation, will influence the timescales needed to deal with the matter. We give you an assurance that we will try and deal with your concern in a timely manner.
19. When you raise the concern you may be asked how you think the matter might best be resolved. If you do have any personal interest in the matter, we do ask that you tell us at the outset. If your concern falls more properly within the Grievance Procedure we will tell you.
20. We will give you as much feedback as we properly can, and if requested, we will confirm it in writing. However, we may not be able to tell you the precise action we take where this would infringe a duty of confidence owed by us to someone else.
21. If you are unsure whether or how to raise a concern or you want confidential advice at any stage, you may contact your trade union. You may also contact the independent charity Public Concern at Work on 020 7404 6609 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Their lawyers can talk you through your options and help you raise a concern about malpractice at work. For more information, you can visit their website at www.pcaw.co.uk.
Disclosures to an External Body
22. While we hope we have given you the reassurance you need to raise your concern internally with us, we recognise that there may be circumstances where you can properly report a concern to an outside body. In fact, we would rather you raise a matter with the appropriate regulator – such as the Northern Ireland Audit Office or the Health and Safety Executive of Northern Ireland - than not at all. Matters relating to criminal or other unlawful activity can be reported directly to the PSNI. Public Concern at Work (or your union) will be able to advise you on such an option and on the circumstances in which you may be able to contact an outside body safely.
Disclosures by an External Source
23. These arrangements will also apply to disclosures (anonymous or otherwise) from outside of the Assembly Secretariat.
24. While we cannot guarantee that we will respond to all matters in the way that you might wish, we will strive to handle the matter fairly and properly. By using these whistleblowing arrangements you will help us to achieve this.
25. These arrangements have been developed to meet best practice and comply with the Public Interest Disclosure (NI) Order 1998 which provides employment protection for whistleblowing. There is also further information in the Assembly Secretariat Staff Handbook, Standards of Conduct, Section 6.01 on whistleblowing relating to the handling of contracts.