Leaders: Trident whistleblower | RBS mess

The release of sensitive material can have a damaging effect, even if the disclosure is made for the right reasons. Picture: Getty
The release of sensitive material can have a damaging effect, even if the disclosure is made for the right reasons. Picture: Getty
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APPROPRIATELY enough for the armed forces, ranks have closed following claims that Trident is unsafe.

William McNeilly is no longer the able seaman who went public with allegations that the nuclear deterrent programme was “a disaster waiting to happen”. Yesterday, Mr McNeilly said that he had been given a dishonourable discharge, after the Royal Navy ruled his views were “subjective and unsubstantiated”. The clue is in “dishonourable”: as far as the Royal Navy is concerned, Mr McNeilly departs in disgrace.

This is a regrettable outcome for a whistleblower. It sends out the message that anyone who raises concerns about safety or security will lose his or her job and reputation.

It’s a worrying development at a time when whistleblowing is being encouraged elsewhere in society, as a means of exposing issues such as corruption, breaches of security and poor safety standards. Mr McNeilly’s experience is that the forces will not tolerate dissent, and any attempt to question bad practice risks heavy punishment.

It is accepted that a greater standard of confidentiality is required from services personnel than in most other walks of life, because matters of national security are at risk. The release of sensitive material can have a damaging effect, even if the disclosure is made for the right reasons. However, that risk has to be set against the possibility that failure to disclose sensitive information about a potential threat to public safety could be the most damaging of all courses of action.

We have not had the opportunity to examine and assess Mr McNeilly’s claims about compromised safety, and it is possible that there are no justified grounds on which to base his allegations. However, he did report his concerns to senior officers, and says he was ignored. If Mr McNeilly genuinely believed he had encountered serious safety issues regarding nuclear warheads, his only way of being heard was to highlight these issues in public. His claims did not create a security risk, or threaten lives. This is not another Edward Snowden, accessing millions of confidential documents and handing over tens of thousands to the media.

Instead, McNeilly sought to improve safety and save lives. Misguided or not over the matters he highlighted, he tried to do what he thought was right.

If we accept the need for whistleblowers, we cannot make an exception for the armed forces to be treated differently.

If Mr McNeilly had to be removed, it should not have been in shame, because he did nothing dishonourable. And it is questionable whether he should have been removed. Mr McNeilly had little to gain personally, but has now lost his livelihood. If his concerns were plausible and reasonable, he should still be in a job.

Another fine mess, RBS

THE banks’ key argument behind the scaling down of its over-the-counter service through the closure of significant numbers of branches in recent years is that people are no longer using them. When numbers crossing the threshold show a dramatic fall, they are hard to argue with. Banks then point to further evidence: people no longer visit branches because they are doing all their banking at home, online.

That sea change in practice works both ways. For the customer, there is convenience, and a sense of control. For the bank, there are reduced overheads for unnecessary premises, and that neat trick – perfected by the Inland Revenue over self-assessment – of having the customer do the work.

But this new arrangement is dependent on reliability, and the news that around 600,000 payments to Royal Bank of Scotland customers failed to process is another blow to public faith in banking, as well as hardship for those worst affected. If it was a one-off, it would be forgivable, but this is the third major IT failure involving RBS in the past four years. When Ross McEwan took over as chief executive in 2013, he promised to spend “whatever it takes” to ensure there would be no repeat of the 2012 incident which saw 6.5 million customers unable to make payments for up to three weeks because of an IT problem.

This latest failure is a serious embarrassment for RBS. Customers are being told the problem will be fixed by Saturday at the latest. That’s little comfort for those affected, and many will lack confidence that the backlog will clear in that time.

RBS cannot keep treating customers this way. Mr McEwan must step in, because whatever IT “fix” has been put in place since 2013 remains inadequate.