Watchdog to carry out review into 'most important' ethical standard in public life

Review will encourage organisations to take “ethical health-check” and examine importance of leadership in upholding standards
Lord Evans speaking at PACAC

By Tevye Markson

08 Mar 2022

The Committee on Standards in Public Life will carry out a review of the role of leadership in embedding the Nolan Principles in government and public sector organisations.

Entitled Leading in Practice, the review will highlight case studies across the civil service, local government and public sector organisations that demonstrate good leadership.

The CSPL is seeking to examine the role of leadership at all levels of an organisation in developing and sustaining a commitment to the Seven Principles of Public Life – selflessness, integrity, honesty, accountability, leadership, objectivity and openness – also known as the Nolan Principles.

Leadership is about personal conduct and can be demonstrated at all levels of an organisation, not just by chief executives or board members, the CSPL says.

The committee is asking public sector organisations for examples of when things have gone wrong, how leaders dealt with those problems and the lessons that can be learned from failures.

CSPL chair Lord Jonathan Evans said the review will “shine a light on good practice from across the public sector and challenge leaders to review how their organisations operate and think about what they can learn from each other”.

“High standards are not a tick box exercise – they require eternal vigilance and regular review. We hope this work will help organisations build, maintain and promote the high standards the public expect from those who serve them,” he added.

In a letter to the prime minister about the review, Evans added that the committee aimed to “encourage leaders of government departments and public sector bodies to take an ethical ‘health-check’ of their organisations and consider what they can learn from each other”.The review will also consider if there are practices in the private and third sectors that public bodies can adopt.

Organisations from across the public sector, as well as charities and private companies, can send their examples here.

The CSPL advises the prime minister on arrangements for upholding ethical standards of conduct across public life in England, in line with Nolan Principles.

Leadership is “arguably the most important” of the seven principles according to CSPL member Ewen Fergusson. The principles call for holders of public office to exhibit these principles in their own behaviour and treat others with respect… [and] actively promote and robustly support the principles and challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.”

This description was recently updated to include “treat others with respect”.

The committee published a major report, Upholding Standards in Public Life, in November, which called for improved procedures around public standards, a better system for ensuring the rules are complied with, and greater independence for those regulating compliance.

The CSPL is currently waiting for the government to respond to its recommendations.

Lord Evans told the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in January that the government had been "careless” in its upholding of standards which govern public servants' behaviour.

He said the government needs to take the rules around behaviour and ethics “much more seriously" and provide more funding to do so, highlighting scandals in recent years such as the Owen Paterson and Greensill affairs, the Downing Street flat refurbishment, and Partygate.

“I don't think it's given the priority that it should have across various government departments,” he added.

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