Investigation into whistleblowing in the civil service

Region: Europe & Central Asia
Category: Open Government and Transparency
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Investigation into whistleblowing in the civil service, published by the UK National Audit Office, authored by The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Gareth Davies, Date published:19th December 2023

The UK's NAO’s report Investigation into whistleblowing in the civil service examines centrally held whistleblowing data in government over a three-year period. Within this period, an average of 313 concerns were raised by civil servants each year, with five departments representing 77% of concerns, and 40% of concerns relating to fraud. 

Investigations by organisations found wrongdoing in 76 cases over the three-year period (12% of completed investigations). In 49 of the cases where wrongdoing was found, departments took disciplinary action or made changes to policy and procedures. But of the remaining 27 cases, in 20 of these cases organisations reported either that it was ‘not known’ what action was taken, the action was unspecified, or that no information was held. No action was taken in a further 7 cases.

The UK government has taken several steps to improve the transparency of whistleblowing in the civil service, including requiring government bodies to report on the effectiveness of whistleblowing arrangements in their annual reports, and reporting data on concerns raised to the Cabinet Office.

Despite the government’s action, problems with the underlying approach to whistleblowing remain. For instance, the NAO found the government’s data has several quality limitations, such as no method for capturing outcomes for concerns that were 'ongoing' at the point of an annual data collection. The Government People Group in the Cabinet Office collects data on whistleblowing, but it could do more to analyse information and share learnings across the government.

Organisations have put in place support for whistleblowers, but there is limited information available on their experiences and how they feel supported. Almost two-thirds of the 78 people who gave reasons for raising their concerns anonymously said they did so out of 'fear of reprisal, recrimination or victimisation.'


The NAO has established four recommendations for government to improve its arrangements for whistleblowing. These recommendations include:

  • Collecting better information on whistleblowing and what happens whistleblowers after they report concerns;
  • Using every concern raised as an opportunity to learn from whistleblowers, even if no wrongdoing is found;
  • Determining the extent of whistleblower complaints of intimidation or victimisation by building an understanding of the number and patterns of complaints, when data is available, as well as coordinating departmental action;
  • Doing more to help departments learn from each other about effective approaches to whistleblowing, for example, the way senior leaders can oversee whistleblowing.

About the NAO

The National Audit Office (NAO) scrutinises public spending for Parliament and is independent of government and the civil service. It helps Parliament hold government to account and it uses its insights to help people who manage and govern public bodies improve public services.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Gareth Davies, is an Officer of the House of Commons and leads the NAO. The NAO audits the financial accounts of departments and other public bodies. It also examines and reports on the value for money of how public money has been spent.