Spotlight on Corruption strongly welcomes today’s Committee on Standards in Public Life roadmap for upgrading how standards in public life are regulated. This roadmap represents a realistic but robust agenda for reform. The government must act quickly to implement the Committee’s recommendations and ensure they are reflected in the next Queen’s speech.
There are areas where we would like to have seen the Committee go further, including greater consolidation of the standards regulators and stronger sanctioning powers for independent regulators. Nevertheless, taken together the Committee’s recommendations would vastly improve the current hodge-podge, laissez-faire ‘convention’ based approach that has been tested to its limits in the last few decades.
Ensuring confidence and building trust in political decision-making has never been more important. The UK faces key challenges over the next decade to develop and build support for credible policies to tackle climate change, and to ensure fairness in post-pandemic recovery and post-Brexit economic and political decision-making. The public have a right to expect that their elected representatives and those who hold power over their lives are going to act fully in the public interest and for the greater good. The current framework for making sure that those in power do so is not fit for purpose, and has not kept pace with new technologies or the vastly increased interaction and movement between the private and public sectors.
We particularly welcome the recommendations from the Committee that:
- New primary legislation be enacted to put standards regulators on a statutory footing, according them greater independence, and that the appointment process for these regulators should be more rigorously independent;
- The Ministerial code be put on a statutory footing and focused specifically on ethical standards;
- Significant reform be introduced to regulation of the UK’s revolving door by making the rules enforceable through employment contracts, and giving the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments the powers to act as a regulator, including imposing 5-year lobbying bans on senior officials;
- Ministers should not be able to make public appointments where they have been deemed unsuitable by assessment panels, with a stronger role for the Commissioner for Public Appointments; and
- A central searchable database on meetings with ministers and officials be created, updated monthly, include more information, cover informal lobbying and a greater range of officials.
Re-establishing trust in politicians and public office, and ensuring that the UK has up to date standards for regulating those in public office is too important for the future of our democracy to kick these reforms into the long grass. We urge the government to set out its intentions for implementing these recommendations, alongside recommendations from the Law Commission for a new corruption in public office offence, at the earliest opportunity.