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Standards watchdog identifies four areas of regulation needing reform in interim report

The Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) has issued an interim report identifying four areas of standards regulation that require “significant reform”.

The Committee launched its Standards Matter 2 review last autumn “to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the institutions, processes and structures in place to support high standards of conduct in public life”.

The suggested areas for reform are:

  1. The Ministerial Code and the Independent Adviser on Ministers' Interests;
  2. The business appointment rules and the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA);
  3. Transparency around lobbying; and
  4. The regulation of public appointments.

The CSPL’s report, Standards Matter 2 - committee findings, outlined the committee's findings in each area as follows:

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The Ministerial Code and the Independent Adviser on Ministers' Interests

  • The Ministerial Code should be issued by the Prime Minister.
  • There should be a range of graduated sanctions for breaches of the Ministerial Code, and the issuing of those sanctions should be a matter solely for the Prime Minister.
  • The Independent Adviser should be able to initiate investigations, determine findings of breaches, and a summary of their findings should be published in a timely manner.

The Business Appointment Rules and the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments

  • The business appointment rules should be expanded to prohibit for two years business appointments where the applicant has significant and direct responsibility for policy, regulation, or the awarding of contracts relevant to the hiring company.
  • The government should amend the rules to enable government departments and ACOBA to issue a longer ban on lobbying, not exceeding five years, where deemed appropriate, and to make clear that applications to work with lobbying firms will not be accepted for a specified period of time.
  • The business appointment rules should be made enforceable through employment contracts for civil servants and special advisers, and through parallel legal arrangements for ministers. Should that prove impossible or impractical then the government should explore how a statutory scheme with civil penalties could operate.
  • Government departments should publish details on their implementation of the business appointment rules, and the Cabinet Office should ensure the application of the rules is consistent across all government departments.
  • ACOBA should be given additional resources to promote awareness and understanding of the business appointment rules.

Transparency Around Lobbying

  • To improve the quality of departmental transparency releases, the Cabinet Office should:

○ collate all departmental transparency releases and publish them in one centrally managed database

○ ensure that a sufficient level of detail is provided on the subject matter of all lobbying meetings and any policy matters discussed

○ ensure that all transparency releases are published in a timely manner on a monthly basis

○ publish details of meetings held with external organisations by senior civil servants below permanent secretary level

○ publish details of meetings held with external organisations by special advisers

○ update guidance on the use of modern communications, to apply the principle that 'government business is government business' to any informal lobbying

○ revise the categories of published information to close the loophole by which informal lobbying is not disclosed in departmental releases

The Regulation of Public Appointments

  • Reforms are necessary to the regulation of significant public appointments to ensure the Commissioner has sufficient powers to uphold the integrity of the appointments process.
  • The appointment process for Non-Executive Directors of government departments should be regulated.
  • Government departments should each publish a list of unregulated appointments.
  • The appointment process for standards regulators requires a greater element of independence than is the case for other significant appointments.

A copy of the CSPL report can be viewed here. The Committee’s final report and recommendations to the Prime Minister will follow later this year.

Writing in the foreword, CSPL chair Lord Evans of Weardale said: “Though it is unusual for the Committee to publish findings in advance of a final report, our system of standards regulation is currently under sustained public scrutiny, and the upholding and enforcement of the Seven Principles of Public Life is the subject of a number of parliamentary and government inquiries. The Committee is releasing these findings now to contribute to that debate in a timely manner.”

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