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We must all act to stop fraud

AGENDA - Viewpoint

THE GOVERNMENT doesn't like whistleblowers and sacked Steven Moxton for pointing out that visa requests from Eastern Europe were being rushed through to make the immigration statistics look better.

His emails alerting ministers had been ignored and he was so unhappy that he went to the media - the only people ministers are really afraid of.

Unfortunately we find a similar situation in the construction sector.

It would be nice to think that employees in construction companies, if they identify theft, fraud and dishonest conduct, would similarly be quick to alert the company's directors. Sadly, this is not so - there could be all sorts of theft and fraud going on in your business but no one bold enough to tell the boss.

Certainly in my experience it is extremely rare for people in construction companies who suspect that their fellow workers are on the take to blow the whistle on them.

This contrasts with other sectors - housing associations for instance - where I find a good incidence of employees willing to stand up and stop frauds.

Why are whistleblowers so uncommon in construction companies?

Is it because there is less fraud than in other sectors? In my experience this is certainly not the case. Inflated expenses and over-ordering of materials to provide the basis of an extension at home are just the tip of the iceberg.

Poor security, false invoices, under-delivery of materials, overcharging for work and cash agreements on the side are all common and the construction industry by its very nature is particularly susceptible to them. Bigger frauds are also easy where controls are not enforced.

Is it because workers think fraud and theft is a victimless crime, since only the company gets hurt and it can afford this? Maybe this applies in some companies where a lax ethical culture has developed. If the boss cheats the customer and shareholders, why shouldn't we cheat him? employees may ask.

Most likely it is because potential whistleblowers in the construction sector know their honesty won't be welcomed.

The typical reward for an employee who reports dishonest conduct to senior management is damaged promotional prospects.Management see them as a loose cannon; colleagues ostracise them and mud will be slung at them by those involved keen to cover their own trail.

Construction companies need to show that illegal and unethical conduct will not be tolerated and those who stand up against it will be rewarded, not hounded.

A clear policy encouraging whistleblowers, perhaps to an independent third party, should be established and details made widely available, perhaps through the employee handbook and notice boards.

Employees who want to blow the whistle on a fraud or other illegal conduct at a company can get free advice from Public Concern at Work, a charity that assists whistleblowers, on 020 7404 6609.