Raising concerns at Plymouth University

Chairman's introduction 

The University – and the Board of Governors – are committed to operating in an open, honest and transparent manner and to being held accountable for our decisions. We are confident that our staff and students share that commitment. However, any organisation can sometimes be faced with something going wrong or of being unaware of illegal or unethical behaviour.

To reduce the risk of those situations arising, and to deal with them if they do arise, the University has put in place a range of policies and procedures, and we would hope that if staff or students have concerns, they can be dealt with through the normal channels of communication. However, we understand that there may be times when members of the University feel that using existing procedures would be inappropriate, or could in some way put their own position at risk. This Raising Concerns policy provides an alternative approach in those circumstances.

Considerable effort has gone into making the policy as user-friendly and accessible as possible, but things are rarely perfect, so if you do have comments on the policy, please send them to the Registrar and Secretary Richard Middleton, who will ensure that we take comments into account when we come to review the policy. 

If you would like some additional guidance on whistleblowing, please see the attached whistleblowing FAQs.

Raising concerns at Plymouth University (whistleblowing policy)

1.  About this policy
1.1:  We are 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 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 Talent and Organisational Development) 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 procedures would be inappropriate or could in some way put their own position at risk. In those circumstances, this policy provides an alternative.

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)
  • 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. 

2.  Responsibility for this policy
2.1: The Board of Governors has overall responsibility for this policy, and for reviewing both how it works and how effective it is.

2.2:  The 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.
 
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 Registrar and Secretary Richard Middleton, Chairman or Senior Independent Governor. Please visit our Board of Governors website for information about Board officers including contact details or use the governance email address: governance@plymouth.ac.uk

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 that is used for reporting information which relates to suspected wrongdoing or dangers at work. This 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 regulatory requirements, or our policies and procedures
  • danger to the health and safety of any person or damage to the environment
  • trying to prevent 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:  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.

3.3:  If you have any questions about what can be dealt with under this policy, you can raise these confidentially with the Registrar and Secretary or Senior Independent Governor.

3.4:  Please see Appendix 2 for details of other sources of advice and information, and the laws relating to whistleblowing.

4.  Who can raise a concern under this policy?
4.1:  You can raise a concern under this policy if you are a member of staff, a currently registered student, a Students’ Union sabbatical officer, a consultant, a contractor, an intern, an agency worker or a member of the Board of Governors or any of its subcommittees.

5.  Safeguards
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 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 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).

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 Talent and Organisational Development. If you do not feel able to do that, you should contact the Registrar and Secretary (Whistleblowing Officer) in confidence. Their contact details will be on the University web pages. 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 Registrar and Secretary, you should write to the Vice-Chancellor. If it relates to the 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 Chairman of the Board or Senior Independent Governor, via the Executive Assistant to the Governors. Please visit our Board of Governors website for information and contact details for the governance team. The person you contact will either act as Whistleblowing Officer themselves or tell you who will be taking that role.

6.2:  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 within five working days of you raising your concern in writing with us. You can bring a colleague or union representative with you to the meeting.  

7.3:  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.

7.4:  Within ten working days of receiving your complaint (or meeting with you, 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.

7.5:  If at this stage you believe that we have not followed this policy properly, you have a right to appeal to the Chairman of the Board of Governors or Senior Independent Governor within ten working days of the date of the letter or email from us.

7.6:  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 within ten working days when the matter has been resolved, and the outcomes (as far as we can).  

7.7:  We cannot always guarantee that the process will have the outcome you may have expected or wanted, but if you are not happy with the way we have handled your concern you have the right to appeal to the Chairman or Senior Independent Governor within ten working days of the date of our letter or email telling you that we have dealt with the matter.

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. If you think that you have been the victim of harassment, victimisation or bullying because others know or believe that you have raised a concern under this policy, you should tell the Whistleblowing Officer immediately.

8.2:  We may take disciplinary action against anyone who threatens, bullies or harasses anyone who has raised a concern under this policy.

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:  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 Public Concern At Work has a confidential helpline and can give you a list of regulators who you can report particular types of concern to. The number is 0290 7404 6609 or email: whistle@pcaw.co.uk.

Appendix 1
Whistleblowing procedure

When the Whistleblowing Officer receives a formal concern, they will follow the processes set out below. 

1.  Initial review
1.1:   The Whistleblowing Officer will consult the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Board of Governors (as long as they are not involved in the matter which forms the basis of the concern, in which case the Senior Independent Governor will be consulted) and identify an external governor who will oversee the process. Allegations about financial mismanagement will normally be overseen by a member of the Audit Committee. Allegations about the behaviour of a senior executive of the University or of a governor will be overseen by the Vice-Chairman or Senior Independent Governor.

1.2:  The Whistleblowing Officer will work with the nominated governor to work out whether there is a case to answer and whether another University procedure might be more appropriate. This may involve a meeting with you (the person raising the concern).

1.3:  If necessary, the Whistleblowing Officer will talk to the Director of HR to make sure steps are put in place to protect you from harassment or victimisation.

1.4:  If it is agreed that there is a case to answer, and that this procedure should be used, the Whistleblowing Officer and nominated governor will consider whether the matter should be investigated internally, should form the subject of an independent inquiry, or should be referred to the police or other external agency. If the recommendation is that the concern should be referred to an independent inquiry or external agency, the recommendation must be approved by the Chairman or Vice-Chairman of the Board of Governors or Senior Independent Governor.

2.  Internal investigation
2.1:  The Whistleblowing Officer will identify someone to carry out the investigation (Investigating Officer). The Investigating Officer will be either an independent senior officer of the University or a member of the internal audit team. 

2.2:  The Investigating Officer will identify: 

  • initial actions such as protecting or retrieving (or both) electronic data held on our PCs or laptops, or hard-copy files; 
  • any specific expertise anyone carrying out interviews will need; and
  • key individuals we should ask to give statements or attend interviews (or both).
2.3:  The Investigating Officer will tell anyone directly involved about the nature of the concerns and any supporting evidence and about the type of investigation, and invite them to respond (including by providing evidence and naming witnesses as appropriate). They will then tell anyone they may need to give statements or attend interviews about the issues we are investigating and the reasons for their involvement.    
  
2.4:  The Investigating Officer will decide, with the Director of HR, whether anyone should be suspended from their duties. 

2.5:  We will keep your identity and the identity of any witnesses confidential unless this is not possible in order to carry out a fair investigation or if there is a good reason for revealing your (or their) identity. If we believe it is necessary to reveal your identity for any reason, the Investigating Officer will consult you and consider how revealing or not revealing your identity could affect the investigation. 

2.6:  The Investigating Officer may call for any documents and communicate with any people as they think necessary.

3.  Independent inquiry  
3.1:  The Chairman or Vice-Chairman of the Board of Governors or Senior Independent Governor will work with the Whistleblowing Officer to identify relevant people with financial, legal, human resources or academic expertise as appropriate to carry out an independent inquiry if necessary under this procedure.

3.2:  The Whistleblowing Officer will act as secretary to the inquiry and we will provide appropriate administrative or other support.

3.3:  The Whistleblowing Officer, with other officers of the University as appropriate, will work with the members of the inquiry team to identify initial actions which may be necessary and key individuals who we may need statements from or who we may need to interview. 

3.4:  The Whistleblowing Officer will tell anyone involved about the nature of the concerns and about any supporting evidence, and about the type of investigation and invite them to respond (including by providing evidence and naming witnesses as appropriate). They will then tell anyone they may need to give statements or attend interviews about the issues we are investigating and the reasons for their involvement.

3.5:  The Whistleblowing Officer will decide, with the Director of HR, whether anyone should be suspended from their duties. 

3.6:  We will keep your identity and the identity of any witnesses confidential unless this is not possible in order to carry out a fair investigation or if there is a good reason for revealing your (or their) identity. If we believe it is necessary to reveal your identity for any reason, the Whistleblowing Officer will consult you and consider how revealing or not revealing your identity could affect the investigation. 

3.7:  The inquiry team may call for any documents and communicate with any people as they think necessary and may decide their own procedures, as long as these are within the limits of natural justice and fairness and are consistent with the Articles of Government and the University Disciplinary Procedures.


4.  Report
4.1:  Whatever the nature of the investigation or inquiry, we will produce a report of the inquiry, including a summary of the concerns, the process we followed to investigate the matter, the conclusions reached and any recommendations for action.

4.2:  If the report finds that the concerns are justified, we will submit it to the Vice-Chancellor or Chairman of the Board, or the Senior Independent Governor as appropriate.

4.3:  If the decision is that the concern is not justified, we will tell you and the person the concern is about. We will not keep a record of the concern on the file of anyone involved (apart from in relation to 4.5 below).

4.4:  If there was an internal investigation into the concern, and you are not satisfied with the outcome of the investigation, you can ask us to refer the issue to an independent advisor, appointed in line with Section 3.1 above, who will consider whether or not we handled the internal investigation properly and whether the response was reasonable in the circumstances.

4.5:  If we find that the concern is malicious or was raised for personal gain, we may take disciplinary action against you.

Appendix 2

Relevant legislation     

The Employment Rights Act 1996 (as amended by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 and the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013) protects employees and workers from dismissal or other unlawful action (including disciplinary action, threats or other unfavourable treatment connected with raising a concern) when they make a ‘protected disclosure’.
A ‘protected disclosure’ means revealing information which you believe is in the public interest to reveal and shows one of the following has happened, is happening or is likely to happen.

  • A criminal offence 
  • Breaking any legal obligation A miscarriage of justice 
  • Danger to the health and safety of an individual 
  • Damage to the environment 
  • Deliberately concealing information relating to any of the above 

Under the legislation, you can also make a protected disclosure give information to a legal adviser, government minister or other appropriate body.

There is more information about whistleblowing at: www.gov.uk/whistleblowing/what-is-a-whistleblower