Firm up private bill

Professional bodies have backed Richard Shepherd’s private members bill, aimed at protecting employees who blow the whistle on malpractice at work, but say measures could go much further.

The English ICA claimed the Aldridge Brownhills MP’s bill should be extended to make all confidentiality clauses in contracts null and void when they apply to valid whistle-blowing, so that accountants could be free to report fraud or malpractice with far less risk to their jobs.

Tony Wedgwood, chairman of the institute’s working party on whistle-blowing, said: ‘The bill has gone for the easiest option by just extending unfair dismissal laws. It’s a good start, and it sets the tone that whistle-blowers should not be victimised, but it does not go far enough to protect them.’

The institute also argued the proposed compensation level set by the bill is too low. Wedgwood added: ‘A compensation limit of around #30,000 for unjustified dismissals is hardly going to mean a lot to someone on a #50,000 salary.’

John Davies, senior technical officer for ACCA, agreed: ‘If such a low ceiling is put on compensation levels, it will lessen the effectiveness of the bill in encouraging the uncovering of fraud.’

The Scots ICA said limited compensation will not take into account the ‘whispering damnation’ which surrounds a sacked whistle-blower and prevents him from finding a new job. Tom McMorrow, the Scots director of legal services, said: ‘We’ve had quite a few cases where someone has done the right thing, been sacked and unable to find another job. That is a trap from which whistle-blowers need protection.’

ACCA also criticised the bill’s definition of what information is, or is not, in the public interest, claiming it was too loose and would lead to confusion.

‘We want to be able to advise our members on the specific areas covered by the bill, and for this the bill needs to refine its vague definition of what is in the public interest.’

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