Raising concerns at the University of Plymouth (whistleblowing policy)
1. About this policy
1.1: The University of Plymouth is committed to the highest standards of openness, honesty and integrity, and to the principles of academic freedom. We expect all members of the University to maintain those standards. However, all organisations face the risk of things going wrong from time to time or of being unaware of illegal or unethical behaviour. A culture of openness and accountability is essential to minimise the risk of those situations arising and to deal with them if they do arise.
1.2: Concerns about what is happening at the University can usually be dealt with through the normal channels of communication (through line managers or the HR department) and existing University procedures, as part of a commitment to continuous improvement. However, there may be times when members of the University feel that using existing policies and procedures would be inappropriate or could in some way put their own position at risk. In those circumstances, this policy provides an alternative avenue for raising a concern.
1.3: The aims of this policy are to:
- encourage people to report suspected wrongdoing as soon as possible without fear of reprisal (even if their concerns turn out to be mistaken), in the knowledge that their concerns will be taken seriously and investigated as appropriate, and that their confidentiality will be respected.
- make people aware of how to raise concerns
- protect people who raise concerns from repercussions as a result of having done so;
- put in place appropriate procedures to investigate concerns, and
- make sure that concerns are dealt with in a transparent and confidential way.
1.4: This policy does not form part of any contract of employment or other contract to provide services, and the University may amend it at any time.
2. Responsibility for this policy
2.1: The Board of Governors (the Board) has overall responsibility for this policy, and for reviewing both how it works and its effectiveness.
2.2: The University Registrar and Secretary is responsible for managing the policy and for keeping a confidential record of all concerns raised and investigations carried out. Every year they will make a report to the Board on concerns raised, investigations made and outcomes. The report will not contain the names of those involved. The University Registrar and Secretary must ensure that regular and appropriate training is provided to all managers and other staff who may deal with concerns or investigations under this policy.
2.3: All members of the University are welcome to comment on this policy and suggest ways in which we could improve it. If you have any comments, suggestions or questions, you should address them to the University Registrar and Secretary or the Chair of the Board. Please visit our Board of Governors
webpage for information about Board officers including contact details.
2.4: This policy is reviewed at least every 3 years by the University Registrar and Secretary, with reference to the University Executive Group, before any proposed amendments are referred to the Board for approval.
3. What does this policy cover?
3.1: This policy covers raising concerns about what is happening at the University, often referred to as whistleblowing. Whistleblowing is the term used for reporting information which relates to suspected wrongdoing or dangers at work. You may raise concerns under this policy in relation to any suspected wrongdoings or dangers that may have already happened at the point of discovery; that may be ongoing; or that have not yet happened, but which you believe could take place. These may include:
- financial mismanagement or fraud
- corruption, bribery or blackmail
- unethical, unlawful or criminal activity
- breaking confidentiality or security measures
- failing to keep to legal or professional obligations, regulatory requirements, or University policies and procedures
- danger to the health and safety of any person or damage to the environment
- conduct likely to damage the University’s reputation or financial wellbeing
- trying to prevent freedom of speech or of staff exercising their right to the academic freedom to question and test received wisdom and to put forward new ideas or controversial or unpopular opinions within the University (or trying to make it more difficult for staff to do that)
- a miscarriage of justice
- professional mismanagement or negligence, or
- deliberately covering up any of these matters.
3.2: A whistleblower is a person who raises a genuine concern relating to any of the above. If you have any genuine concerns related to suspected wrongdoing or danger affecting any of the University’s activities you should report it under this policy.
3.3: You should not normally use this procedure for complaints about your own personal circumstances, which should be dealt with under the relevant HR policies and procedures.
3.4: If a complaint relates to your own personal circumstances but you also have wider concerns regarding one of the areas set out at paragraph 3.1 above, you should discuss with the University Registrar and Secretary to identify which route is the most appropriate.
3.5: If you have any questions about what can be dealt with under this policy, you can raise these confidentially with the University Registrar and Secretary (as the University’s Whistleblowing Officer) or the Clerk to the Board.
4. Who can raise a concern under this policy?
4.1: You can raise a concern under this policy if you are an employee, officer, consultant, self-employed contractor, casual worker, agency worker, volunteer or intern of the University; a currently registered student; a Students’ Union sabbatical officer; or any member of the University’s bodies (e.g., a member of the Board or any of its subcommittees).
5.1: We expect that any concerns will be raised without malice and in good faith. In return, we will take concerns seriously, investigate them appropriately and will not tolerate repercussions against anyone who has raised a genuine concern under this policy.
5.2: We hope that you will feel able to voice whistleblowing concerns openly under this policy. We do not encourage anonymous complaints, since it is likely to be more difficult, or even impossible, for us to deal with these if we cannot ask you for more information as necessary, and we will not be able to report back to you on the outcome of any investigation. This does not mean that we will ignore anonymous concerns that are raised, just that it may be more difficult to deal with these concerns unless there is other evidence which an investigation could uncover.
5.3: If you do not want your identity to be revealed, we will do what we can to keep your details confidential. We will let you know if this is not possible (because, for example, we need to give details of the complaint to someone who may be involved in the matter and that may allow them to guess your identity, or because you will need to give evidence as a witness). If it is necessary for anyone investigating your concern to know your identity, we will discuss this with you.
6. How to raise a concern
6.1: If you have a concern, we would encourage you to raise it first with your line manager or with your HR representative. If you are a student, we would encourage you to raise the concern with your personal tutor or, if that is not possible, to seek support from the University of Plymouth Students’ Union (UPSU) advice hub. You may tell them in person or put the matter in writing if you prefer. They may be able to agree a way of resolving your concern quickly and effectively. In some cases they may refer the matter to the University Registrar and Secretary.
6.2: If you do not feel able to raise the concern with your line manager or HR representative, or you feel that your line manager or HR representative has not addressed your concern, you should contact the University Registrar and Secretary in confidence. They will be able to tell you whether your concerns should be dealt with under this policy or under another University procedure or policy. If your concern relates to the University Registrar and Secretary, you should write to the Vice-Chancellor. If it relates to the University Registrar and Secretary and the Vice-Chancellor, or you believe that it would not be appropriate to raise it with a member of the University, you should contact the Chair of the Board, via the Executive Assistant to the Board. Please visit our Board of Governors
website for information and contact details. The person you contact will either act as Whistleblowing Officer themselves or tell you who will be taking that role.
6.3: If this policy applies, the Whistleblowing Officer will ask you to send them your concerns in writing. Your letter or email should include:
- a summary of your concern
- a statement of all the relevant facts
- copies of any evidence to support the allegation
- the names of any witnesses who can provide supporting statements
- whether you want to raise the concern in confidence
- whether you have any personal interest in the matters you are concerned about, and
- wherever possible, your name and address so the Whistleblowing Officer can reply.
7. What we will do next
7.1: Once you have told us about your concerns, we will review what action to take. This might mean an internal review, an investigation, a formal independent inquiry or sending the concern to the police or other external agency. The action we take will depend on how serious the concern is, how it could affect any other people involved or any external organisation, the best way to make sure that the investigation is handled by someone with appropriate expertise, and whether we have any formal duty or obligation to report the matter to an external agency.
7.2: We may want to meet with you to discuss your concerns. If so, the meeting will take place as soon as possible following you raising your concern in writing with us. You can bring a colleague or union representative with you to the meeting (or, if you are a student, you can bring a member of the University community or a representative of UPSU). You may be required to attend additional meetings in order to provide further information.
7.3: We will take down a written summary of any meetings held in connection with your concern and provide you with a copy after the meeting. We will also aim to give you an indication of how we propose to deal with the matter. Throughout, we will carry out the processes as sensitively and quickly as possible, in line with our responsibilities to act fairly and without bias and to ensure a fair hearing, and we will remind everyone involved of the need for confidentiality. You should also keep the matter confidential.
7.3: In some cases we may appoint an investigator or team of investigators including staff with relevant experience of investigations or specialist knowledge of the subject matter under investigation. The investigator (or investigators) may make recommendations for change to enable us to minimise the risk of future wrongdoing.
7.4: Within ten working days of receiving your complaint (or from the final meeting held with you as arranged in accordance with paragraph 7.2 above, whichever is later), we will let you know in writing how we are handling the matter, who is investigating it and how you can contact them, and whether we are likely to need more information from you. If at this point we believe that your concern should be handled through another procedure or policy, we will let you know.
7.6: If at this stage you believe that we have not followed this policy properly, you have a right to appeal to the Chair of the Board within ten working days of the date of the letter or email from us. If your concern relates to the Chair of the Board, you should appeal to the Senior Independent Governor.
7.7: We will aim to keep you informed of the progress of any investigation and its likely timescales. Sometimes the need for confidentiality, or the involvement of an external agency, may mean that we are unable to give you full details of the investigation or its outcomes, but we will let you know as soon as possible when the matter has been resolved, and the outcomes (as far as we can). It is not possible to provide precise timescales for an investigation to conclude, as it will depend upon the nature and complexity of the concern(s) raised.
7.8: We cannot always guarantee that the process will have the outcome you may have expected or wanted, but we will try to deal with your concern fairly and in an appropriate way. If you are not happy with the way we have handled your concern you have the right to appeal to the Chair of the Board within ten working days of the date of our letter or email telling you that we have dealt with the matter. If your concern relates to the Chair of the Board, you should appeal to the Senior Independent Governor.
8. Protection for people raising concerns
8.1: We understand that you may be worried about what other people may think or do if you raise a concern. We will support anyone who raises a genuine concern under this policy, even if it later turns out they were mistaken. Whistleblowers must not suffer any detrimental treatment as a result of raising a concern. Detrimental treatment includes dismissal, disciplinary action, threats or other unfavourable treatment connected with raising a concern. If you believe that you have suffered any such treatment, you should inform the University Registrar and Secretary OR your line manager OR the HR Department OR (if you are a student) your personal tutor, immediately. If the matter is not remedied you should raise it formally using our Grievance Procedure (or if you are a student, the procedure for raising a student complaint).
8.2: We will take disciplinary action against anyone who threatens, bullies or harasses anyone who has raised a concern under this policy.
8.3: Certain members of staff may also be protected by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA). We believe that this policy incorporates the provisions of PIDA, but to the extent that it does not, the provisions of PIDA will apply.
9 Reporting concerns to an external organisation
9.1: We would always hope that we can deal with concerns through this policy. However, in some circumstances it may be necessary for us to report the matter to an external regulatory or other body.
9.2: The law also recognises that in some circumstances it may be appropriate for you to report your concerns to an external body such as a regulator. It will very rarely if ever be appropriate to alert the media. If you feel that you want to report your concerns to an external organisation, we strongly encourage you to get advice first. The independent whistleblowing charity Protect has a confidential helpline and can give you a list of regulators who you can report particular types of concern to. They also have a list of prescribed regulators for reporting certain types of concern. The number is 020 7404 6609
or 020 3117 2550
, and the email is firstname.lastname@example.org
9.3: Whistleblowing concerns usually relate to the conduct of individuals engaged by the University, but they may sometimes relate to the actions of a third party, such as a supplier or service provider. In some circumstances the law will protect you if you raise the matter with the third party directly. However, we encourage you to report such concerns internally first, in line with this policy. You should contact your line manager OR the HR Department or (as appropriate) one of the other individuals set out in paragraph 6.2 for guidance.
10 Malicious or vexatious allegations
10.1: The University recognises that concerns may be raised in good faith even if they are not substantiated by an investigation. However, disciplinary action may be taken against a person who makes an allegation frivolously, maliciously, or for personal gain.