Committee calls for new ethics rules for private providers

Written by Colin Marrs on 17 June 2014 in News

The Committee for Standards in Public Life has called for new contractual and monitoring arrangements to ensure private providers meet the same ethical standards which apply to civil servants.

The committee on 17 July published a report based on research with members of the public, commissioners and providers of public services.

Committee chairman Lord Paul Bew (pictured) said that businesses must change their approach to the public service market in order to build public trust: “The key message, as shown by our research, is that the public want all providers of public services to adhere to and operate by common ethical standards, regardless of whether they are in the private, public or voluntary sectors.” 

He added: “For the public ‘how’ things are done is as important as ‘what’ is done.”

The committee calls on the Cabinet Office to adopt a strategic programme to address the issue, including ensuring that the seven principles of public life - selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership - are embedded in contractual arrangements.

Crown representatives should also champion the standards in dealings with suppliers and provide advice to ministers on the issue, and the department should work with the National Audit Office and Treasury to develop guidance on how to balance value for money with high ethical standards.

The committee also wants accounting officers to “actively seek assurance that public money is being spent in accordance with the high ethical standards expected of all providers of public services and annually certify (as part of managing public money duties) that they have satisfied themselves about the adequacy of their organisation’s arrangements.”

Ethical standards should become the responsibility of one non-executive board member of departmental boards, the report says, and be incorporated in regular performance reviews carried out by the Public Accounts Committee.

Another recommendation said that civil servants involved in commissioning and contracting should receive formal assurance that suppliers accept ethical standards, and departments should consider ethical awareness as a professional commercial capability requirement for anyone commissioning, procuring or managing government contracts.

Committee member Sheila Drew Smith told CSW that polling carried out on behalf of the committee had discovered that the public was unconcerned who provided services as long as they were delivered to a common standard.

When asked if she felt that putting greater ethical requirements on suppliers could lead to fewer bidders for contracts, she said: “We had the opportunity to talk to firms already delivering services and we did not find that was the opinion. The CBI has welcomed our report.

“There are costs associated with contract failure, both for the public purse and for companies.”

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Colin Marrs
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