Upholding Standards in Public Life – Latest report from The Committee on Standards in Public Life

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02 November 2021

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As a body promoting higher standards in business life, the Institute of Business Ethics supports those trying to improve standards in public life.

Anyone who watched the 2020 Hugh Kay Memorial Lecture hosted by the Institute of Business Ethics and given by Lord Evans of Weardale, the chair of The Committee on Standards in Public Life – or who has subsequently read the text of his powerful lecture – will not be surprised by the forthright analysis and clear recommendations contained in the latest report from the Committee, published on November 1st. As chair for the Hugh Kay Lecture, I was forcibly struck by both Jonathan Evans’s commitment to upholding standards in public life and his concern at recent challenges to those standards – of which we have seen further examples in the year since the lecture.

We are the Institute of Business Ethics, so it may reasonably be asked, what locus we have in commenting on a report on standards in public life. The answer can be found in Lord Evans’s Introduction to this new report. In it, he writes: “Businesses want to invest in a country where governance is stable, predictable and fair. The UK’s success in countering corruption abroad depends on our reputation for high ethical standards at home.” I agree. This is why the IBE welcomes the report and the recommendations for improving standards – not least in efforts to champion lobbying which is responsible and ethical. Some may ask if such a term is an oxymoron. It should not be. Lobbying is perfectly legitimate – as long as it is transparent and conducted within clear rules and to high standards. 

Perceptions of favouritism, of inside tracks for privileged friends, of cronyism and contracts for mates are deeply corrosive and risk tarring a whole political class unfairly. Similarly, at a time when businesses are rightly being expected to root out workplace bullying, it undermines the argument if it appears to be tolerated in the public realm.

It is for those directly involved in public life to determine exactly how to tackle these problems and so we will not comment on the detail of all the recommendations in the report.

However, there is some valuable experience from the commercial world - the importance of a clear and unambiguous code of expected behaviours, quick and effective mechanisms when that appears to have been breached, real sanctions if found to be true, and transparency throughout the process. Good practice from businesses also highlights the value of effective “Speak Up” cultures.

Much of the business world interfaces regularly with the public sector and needs no ambiguity in what is expected. 

Thus without necessarily endorsing every single one of the 34 specific recommendations in the new report, they deserve serious and proper debate – not least because of the knock-on implications for standards in business, if they are not taken seriously.

As a Financial Times editorial on the report says (It is time to restore trust in UK political standards, Financial Times, 1st November 2021), “Overall, its 34 recommendations are specific, well reasoned, and Johnson should enact them.”

Read IBE's response to the consultation:

 

Author

Professor David Grayson CBE
Professor David Grayson CBE

Chair

David is Emeritus Professor of Corporate Responsibility at Cranfield School of Management. From 2007-2017, he was director of the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility and Professor of Corporate Responsibility.

David became Chair of the Trustees Board on 01 April 2019.

He joined Cranfield in April 2007, after a thirty year career as a social entrepreneur and campaigner for responsible business, diversity, and small business development. This included founding Project North East which has now worked in nearly 60 countries around the world; being the founding CEO of the Prince's Youth Business Trust and serving as a managing-director of Business in the Community.

David has an Honorary Doctorate of Law from London South Bank University and was a visiting Senior Fellow at the CSR Initiative of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard (2005-10).

He has served on various charity and public sector boards over the past 30 years. These have included the boards of the National Co-operative Development Agency, The Prince of Wales' Innovation Trust and the Strategic Rail Authority. He chaired the National Disability Council and the Business Link Accreditation Board; in each case appointed by the Major Government and re-appointed by the Blair administration.

He is currently chairman of the national charity Carers UK championing the role of 6.5million Britons caring for a loved one. He is a former chairman of one of the UK's larger social enterprises and largest eldercare providers, Housing & Care 21 during which the organisation made corporate history by becoming the first-ever not-for-profit successfully to acquire a publicly quoted group of companies. David received an OBE for services to industry in 1994 and a CBE for services to disability in 1999.

David has written a number of books on responsible business and corporate sustainability including most recently: ‘All in - The Future of Business Leadership’ with Chris Coulter and Mark Lee. He is part of the faculty of the Forward Institute and of the Circle of Advisers for Business Fights Poverty

The Guardian has named David as one of ten top global tweeters on sustainable leadership alongside Al Gore, Tim Cook - CEO of Apple, and Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg

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