Public sector professionals must ‘step up to the mark and be counted’

13 Jul 17

Public sector professionals “need to step up to the mark and be counted”, the detective involved in the Rochdale grooming case told the CIPFA conference this morning.

Maggie Oliver

Maggie Olivers address a CIPFA conference breakfast workshop on ethics

Speaking at a breakfast workshop on ethics, Maggie Oliver, a former detective constable with Greater Manchester police, gave a powerful presentation about her role in uncovering widespread child sexual abuse of vulnerable girls by older, mainly Pakistani, men and her frustration when senior officers failed to act.

Offenders were not arrested and one victim was judged to be a non-credible witness and instead indicted as a collaborator.

After spending 18 months trying to get her concerns heard, Oliver resigned from the force in order to blow the whistle.

“My two aims were to help the children I felt I’d failed and to bring this into the public domain,” she said.

“We’re 15 years on, and not one senior police officer has been held accountable. Where does that leave us as a society? You’re supposed to be able to trust a police officer.”

Oliver said when she joined the police she swore an oath to uphold moral values and fundamental human rights.

“Never did I believer I would be put in a position to do the polar opposite of that.”

She later said: “There are some things I believe we can’t compromise on and child protection is one of them.”

The session also heard from Anton Colella, chief executive of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland, who said accountants living out their five ethical principles “is the most difficult thing you’ll ever do in your life”.

“We trivialise this when we train out students. We don’t teach them that living out those ethical principles could cost them everything.”

He argued for a sixth ethical principle – moral courage.

Colella said: “Moral courage is not in the big things, it’s in the small things.”

He asked delegates to consider the example they set to the young people in their teams.

“Do you spend time talking about ethical dilemmas?

“The promise we make is we will tell the truth… in time society will start to applaud honour and salute truth,” he said.

“Accountants are among the most trusted [people] in society. This is not some pie-in-the-sky vision. I believe it can become a reality.”

CIPFA issued its updated Standard of Professional Practice (SOPP) at the workshop, which is based on principles rather than rules.

The SOPP considers how threats such as self-interest and intimidation might tempt people to go against their professional principles. It also suggests some institutional safeguards that can be put in place and the personal responses that can be deployed to overcome these threats.

Margaret Pratt, a past CIPFA president, chaired this morning’s discussion. She said: “Public servants are duty bound to ensure their organisation remains financially viable, but ethics should never be undermined to achieve that end.

“Indeed, ethics should never be viewed as an added bonus, but should be at the heart of all decision making in public services. To ensure that, CIPFA has developed standards to help guide financial managers when facing ethical dilemmas.”

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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