BusinessCompany NewsNot just hot air

Not just hot air

The papers were full of news of whistleblowers last week. The Green Party demanded an urgent meeting with deputy prime minister John Prescott after one of its councillors in Lancaster was suspended for revealing unlawful state aid was being provided to the nuclear industry. Just days later, a sacked GCHQ employee, charged under the Official Secrets Act, said her alleged disclosures exposed serious wrongdoing by the US over Iraq.

And then there was Marta Andreasen, the EC whistleblower who was named Accountancy Age Personality of the Year last week after a vote by Accountancy Age readers.

Receiving the award in front of 850 senior financial figures in Battersea, London last Wednesday, Andreasen said: ‘This award is public recognition of my behaviour and I deeply appreciate it and thank all of you for making it happen.’

It’s easy to think of instances of whistleblowing as being few and far between. But, as these cases prove, nothing could be further from the truth. According to a report by whistleblowing support charity Public Concern at Work last month, people are twice as likely to blow the whistle on workplace wrongdoing today than five years ago. ‘A decade ago, whistleblowers were branded misfits and traitors,’ said Public Concern at Work director Guy Dehn. ‘Now, over a third of callers are coming to us straight from the workplace, as organisations begin to realise – post Enron – that they discourage and ignore whistleblowing at their peril.’

Tellingly, alongside safety risks, it is financial misconduct that is the most common reason for blowing the whistle. And very few calls involve scandal of the magnitude of Enron, most are more mundane. For example, the case of the corporate manager secretly giving work to his own private company, or the £3m fraud at a paper mill.

Whistleblowing is enshrined into law. And the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 has already been effective. Now, as of this month, those rules are being toughened up. Listed companies are now required to bring in effective whistleblowing schemes.

Many large organisations complain of the whistleblowing culture, but it is now an important – and enshrined – part of risk management. Complaining isn’t the way forward. A better option is to support the process, or, better still, prevent the need for it altogether.

  • For the national whistleblowing helpline call 020 7404 6609.

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