Government has implemented just four of 57 ethics recommendations, says charity

Spotlight on Corruption says it hopes the post-Greensill audit will be a "wake-up call" to the government
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By Tevye Markson

11 Apr 2023

The government has implemented just four out of the 57 key recommendations for improving ethical standards in public life made in the wake of the Greensill lobbying scandal.

The government has not acted on 40 of the recommendations in the Nigel Boardman and Committee on Standards in Public Life reviews, according to a report from Spotlight on Corruption.

Twelve of the remaining recommendations have been partially implemented and the status of the last one is unknown, the charity said.

The reviews – which were published in 2021 – were commissioned after the Greensill affair, which saw former prime minister David Cameron embroiled in a major lobbying scandal, came to light.

Both called for a significant overhaul of the rules and structures in place to regulate standards in public life, including making "revolving-door" rules legally binding for ministers and civil servants; improving how informal lobbying is recorded; and increasing the regularity and quality of departmental transparency data.

Following the scandal-hit Boris Johnson administration and Liz Truss's calamitous, short-lived stint at No.10, in October, new prime minister Rishi Sunak promised to lead a government with “integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level”.

Spotlight on Corruption said this pledge “represented a tacit acceptance that standards in public life had fallen below reasonable expectations and that a different style of governing was in order”.

But the charity said progress in the last year and a half has been “primarily based on the updating of guidance and publishing of policy papers”. Meanwhile, important agendas – such as departmental codes of conduct, lobbying transparency, and the revolving door between government and business – “have so far been left almost completely untouched”, Spotlight said.

There has been a similar lack of progress on recommendations made by international bodies including the Council of Europe. In March 2021, the council found that just one of the six recommendations to the UK to prevent corruption and promote integrity in central government had been satisfactorily implemented. 

"Endless" scandals exposing the lack of reform have coincided with a drop in trust in government, the report found. In January 2023, the UK plunged to its lowest-ever ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, falling from 11th to eighth. Meanwhile, public trust has fallen to levels not seen since the Iraq war and the parliamentary expenses scandal, and the public is resoundingly in favour of reform, Spotlight found.

“Fundamentally, our system for ensuring the highest standards of ethics and integrity in government has lost the confidence of the public and reform is required,” the report said.

“Repeated scandals have become an all too familiar fixture across politics and government and there is widespread public support for ambitious reform."

Hawley added: “We hope that this audit acts as a wake-up call to the government to urgently come forward with a timetable on an ambitious reform agenda following endless scandals which are damaging trust in politics and undermining the health of our democracy."

The charity has called for the government to:

  • Set out a clear timeline on full implementation of the recommendations in Boardman and the CSPL
  • Engage with experts and civil society on reforms
  • Ensure that measures to strengthen public integrity form a key pillar of the government’s forthcoming anti-corruption strategy.

A government spokesperson said: “Integrity, professionalism and accountability are the core values of this government.

“Our work on reforms, including those proposed by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Nigel Boardman, and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, continues and our official response to these reports will be published in due course."

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