Dr Elaine Heslop has secured a significant Employment Tribunal victory against her former employer Oxford Saïd Business School.
The Tribunal found that Dr Heslop was unfairly dismissed following whistleblowing claims that the business school had, amongst other things, misled the government over its £22 million ‘major project leadership academy’ programme designed to equip those working in government with the skills needed to drive large and complex projects.
The Employment Tribunal agreed that Dr Heslop had been unfairly dismissed and that the whistleblowing was a ‘protected disclosure’. Awarded damages to be announced in a separate hearing in May 2021 are expected to be very substantial.
Dr Heslop joined Oxford Saïd Business School as its Director of Custom Executive Education in 2016. In 2018, Dr Heslop raised concerns that the business school was attempting to breach EU procurement rules by offering the Cabinet Office a 20 per cent discount, interpreted as a bribe, to retain the contract for the programme and avoid a public procurement process.
More seriously, she also raised concerns that the Cabinet Office had been ‘materially mislead’ having been charged £934,000 for a bespoke ‘major project leadership academy’ in which it would own intellectual property but which was almost identical to existing courses offered by Oxford Saïd Business School. The issue only came to light when the government tried to licence the programme to the Australian government.
Dr Elaine Heslop said at the time that the ‘Cabinet Office had spent so much on development fees they would have a reasonable expectation that tailored written materials did exist’. She went on to say that ‘I felt physically sick when I had seen the cut and paste job when I had examined the programme materials’.
The business school responded by questioning her leadership capabilities and dismissing her from her post in September 2018.
Richard Woodman, a Partner in the Employment Team at law firm Royds Withy King, acting for Dr Elaine Heslop, said: “Dr Heslop is very pleased to have been vindicated by this judgment. She always believed that she was sacked for speaking the truth to power and is delighted that Employment Judge Anstis and his colleagues agreed.
“It has been a long haul for her against much better resourced opposition and she hopes that Oxford Saïd Business School will promptly accept the financial consequences of the judgment so that she can move on with life.”
A statement release by Oxford Saïd Business School today said:
“We are reviewing the tribunal’s findings. Our School aspires to uphold the highest standards of teaching, learning and governance.
“We regularly reassess the training and ongoing support we provide to managers in handling sensitive conversations with members of their team.
“We refute any allegation that the Cabinet Office was misled about the design and content of this bespoke programme. We are proud to continue to work with the Cabinet Office, and of the superb work of our faculty and staff in delivering world-class executive education to all our clients.
“The Major Projects Leadership Academy has run successfully since 2012. Throughout, the Business School has worked closely with the Cabinet Office to develop and continually refine a robust and impactful programme, drawing on our expertise in this area, including other specialised programmes we run such as the School’s Masters in Major Programme Management.”