March 27, 2013 12:00 am

Body hunts ways to ease whistleblowing

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The whistleblowing chief executive of Olympus and the dean of St Paul’s Cathedral are helping lead a new independent commission aimed at making it easier to raise the alarm on corporate or government misbehaviour.

Put together by Public Concern at Work, the charity, the eight-member commission will spent the rest of the year looking at how laws, rules and public attitudes towards whistleblowing should be changed to encourage employees and customers to speak out when they see wrongdoing.

The UK already has a law protecting whistleblowers, but the issue has gained currency recently amid a series of scandals, including Libor rate-rigging, unwarranted deaths at the Mid Staffordshire NHS trust, and the substitution of horsemeat for beef in prepared food.

Michael Woodford, who went public about accounting fraud after being sacked by Olympus, said: “I care passionately that, as a society, we make it easier for people in the workplace to report wrongdoing . . . I hope we can change the backdrop in the UK, where individuals, in both the private and public sectors, feel that their concerns will be heard in an environment without intimidation or fear.”

The commission will draw on the charity’s experiences with its own advice line as well as those of its and surveys of the broader industry. The early work suggests that most companies do not react to allegations of misbehaviour unless it is flagged three times, while most employees feel comfortable raising an issue just once or twice.

“The purpose of the commission is to be looking at all aspects of whistleblowing to see how we can make it work better and make individuals feel safer and more respected,” said Carol Sergeant, a former regulator and Lloyds Banking Group executive who now chairs the sponsoring charity.

In addition to Mr Woodford and Dr David Ison, the commission includes Sir Anthony Hooper, a former appeals court judge; Gary Walker, who was dismissed as chief executive of United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust and went public with allegations of poor care; and Lord Terry Burns, a top civil servant and chairman of Santander UK and Channel 4.

The commission begins in an environment where whistleblowing is already on the rise. Calls to the City watchdog’s hotline tripled after the financial crisis and have remained above 3,000 per year, show statistics compiled by Kroll, the security company.

Parliament’s banking standards commission has also been exploring whether the UK should follow the example of the US and offer financial rewards to whistleblowers who help regulators build an enforcement case against a company.

 

HIGH-PROFILE WHISTLEBLOWERS

 

Michael Woodford, former president and chief executive of Olympus, helped expose a £1.7bn accounting cover-up at the company in 2011. He was fired after confronting the chairman of the board and repeatedly calling for an internal investigation. Mr Woodford won a £10m settlement last year after suing Olympus for unfair dismissal. He was named on March 18 as the winner of the Contrarian Prize, a new award that aims to recognise individuals in public life who “stand up for what they believe in and suffer as a result”.

Margaret Haywood was a nurse who secretly filmed for a BBC programme between November 2004 and May 2005 on a failing NHS ward at Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton, showing the neglect of elderly patients. She was struck off the nursing register in 2009 but reinstated that year. She currently trains nurses and carers in the private sector.

Paul Moore, head of group regulatory risk at HBOS, was ousted by its former chief executive Sir James Crosby in 2004 after alerting the board to the bank’s excessive risk taking which he said could “lead to disaster”. Mr Moore is now the non-executive chairman of Assetz Capital, a peer-to-peer lender that launched late last year.

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