Tag Archives | The Guardian

Whistleblowing in Ireland – an inconvenient threat to management

The GuardianThe quote below is from an article, “The sinister treatment of dissent at the BBC”, written by Nick Cohen and published in The Guardian. To me, it is a perfect description of the threat that senior people in organisations feel from whistleblowers who go public. It’s perfectly obvious in Ireland at the moment that whistleblowers are not seen as people out to do something good for an organisation. Instead, given some recent incidents here, management will mainly see whistleblowers as solely focused on trying to do something to slight management themselves.

But they’re missing the point – they see it as a personal slight because they KNOW that they probably already had the opportunity to do something, but most likely (given everything will have gone public) chose not to.

If whistleblowers are doing their job properly, they’ll already have raised their concerns to that same management. For the concerns to go public, it’s more than likely that management will have spurned the opportunity to do anything constructive or positive to address the concerns.

So, what starts as regular employees, inconveniently for whatever reason to management, doing their job and speaking up and highlighting when something is going wrong, eventually becomes a personal slight on management in charge when that employee doesn’t just stay in their cubicle when ignored / sidelined / silenced / fobbed off first time around.

In the banks, the NHS, the police or the BBC, the greatest threats to those in charge, however, are not threats to the institution but threats to their status. If subordinates can contradict them, how can they justify their salaries and the prestige that goes with them?


Are Irish business so brazen that “naming and shaming” doesn’t matter any more?

Way back in 2004, Senator Donie Cassidy tried to start a “name and shame” campaign in the early days of what became known as “rip off Ireland”. If you were ripped off, you only had to name them to Donie, and he’d use Seanad privilege to shame them in the Seanad.

That went nowhere.

Since 2004, I’ve been keeping track of the Irish companies who’ve ripped off their customers by overcharging them in many various and ingenious ways. Last week, I wrote about AIB admitting for the eighth time that they’d stolen money from their customers in the past 6 years.

That’s them admitting to having unjustly taken nearly €34m from over 250,000 of their customers – an average of about €137.50 each. Handy money if you can get it (or more importantly if you’re bank is AIB, actually keep it).

It’d make you wonder:

1. What might be going on that we should know about but still isn’t being admitted to?

2. Why does AIB still 4m customers when so many of them are being treated this badly?

I’m focusing more on point number 2 here, and I’m a little perplexed.

I’ve been a persistent critic of the Financial Services Ombudsman who has steadfastly refused to “name and shame” financial institutions against which he makes findings.

My hope has always been that by naming and shaming, consumers would know who the transgressors are, and can then make conscious decisions to take their business elsewhere. So, if you know that financial institution x has been found to have misold a financial product to an unsuitable client, you can make your own decision to avoid that institution if you’re looking to do a similar kind of business.

But AIB has been named and shamed 8 times in 6 years for stealing money from their customers accounts (not to mention the balls they’ve made of their involvement in the property market in Ireland), but they still have 4m customers.

How can that be? Do people never learn?

Which brings me to this, from the Guardian:

There’s no point naming and shaming the banks. They have no shame

In an article from Patrick Collinson back in September, he leads with “Naming and shaming bad banks will never work. What we need is tougher regulation”.

When it comes to dealing with AIB for example, it seems we can have all the naming and shaming in the public domain that we could care to see, yet consumers aren’t learning their lessons – they’re remaining customers of the bank.

Who’s fault is it then, further down the road, if AIB dips back into their customers savings or current account for a few more quid? It’s not like they don’t need the extra cash at the moment.

Yes, obviously it’s the banks fault, but how much is the customer to blame, given they have full knowledge that having done this in the past, it’s possible that they may do it again.

Where does the Financial Regulator fit in here though? They can inform consumers – but consumers are informed now, but just not listening.

All that’s left, it seems, for Ireland as well as suggested by Mr. Collinson for the UK, “The alternative, which the financial services industry has fought tooth and nail against for years, is direct product and price regulation.”

So, more regulation. As Mr. Collinson closes, “The banks can’t be shamed into action. Instead they will have to be kicked”.

Unfortunately, as we’re seeing here in Ireland at the moment, our financial regulation has been named and shamed in its own right for recent disastrous activities, so we probably can rule out any new protections for consumers when it comes to overcharging in the near future.


UK Government proposes a “Consumer Tsar” – do we need one too?

Recently, I asked the question here as to whether Irish consumers should expect a better level of consumer advocacy and protection than is currently provided by either the Consumers Association of Ireland, the National Consumer Agency or other consumer related agencies, quangos and other supposedly responsible organisations.

In the past few days, on a slightly related note, we’ve also seen a number of calls for retail or grocery ombudsman. Whether or not this would add to the protection provided to the consumer, or would just become another useless quango organisation set up to give the impression of something being done, but actually isn’t, remains to be seen. My two (initial) cents is that it’s a ridiculous idea based on what I’m seeing proposed at the moment but I’ll come back to that in the coming days.

Maybe the solution to all our consumer woes here in Ireland can be seen in the framework currently being proposed in the UK where there are moves afoot to provide what’s being called a “consumer tsar”?

According to an article in The Guardian, National consumer champion to help people get their money back , the British consumer will benefit from a proposal that:

A high-profile national “consumer champion” is to be appointed by the government to help people get their money back when things go wrong and fight for redress over personal finance problems such as unauthorised overdraft charges.

Whilest this proposal is amongst a raft of other consumer related legislation being proposed to help out the British consumer, this particular proposal interestingly came about:

After recognising the valuable role of newspapers’ own consumer champions in exposing bad practice by financial companies and publicising key issues of consumer concern, the government is to appoint a new “consumer advocate”.

A key feature of this proposal is that the consumer be educated to help them fight for their rights and to get their own money back. Though, as pointed out by the Guardian Money Blog, maybe it’s the businesses that are screwing the customers who need to be educated rather than the consumer.  As I’ve found with many of the e-mails I receive at ValueIreland.com, Irish consumers know their rights and what they’re entitled to in many cases, but they just struggle to get them from many businesses.

By the sounds of things, what’s being proposed in the UK is almost an institutionalisation of the BBC Watchdog programme – a high profile consumer advocate taking on big business on behalf of consumers.

Would this work in Ireland? In name at least, it does sound like the “Consumer Rights Enforcer” that was proposed some years ago by Fine Gael. (Though, upon reading that legislation proposed, that role proposed by FG was no more than the National Consumer Agency with a different name but appointed in a different way).

On the basis that, as I have opined many times here already, consumer advocacy and protection in Ireland needs to be completely shaken up in order to truly advance the cause of the Irish consumer, and not the vested interests supposedly protecting them, then maybe a well thought out position such as this could work here.

What do you think? Who could do this – Eddie Hobbs? Or based on the journalistic slant of the UK proposal, how about Charlie Weston? Or Conor Pope?


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