Zero tolerance: Ethical values must be integral to government and other public bodies, says standards watchdog

The Committee on Standards in Public Life, with great prescience, issued on Tuesday its review on standards entitled: “Leading in Practice” . –  Owl recommends it to EDDC’s CEO, Mark Williams,

“The Seven Principles of Public Life (the Principles) apply to all public office-holders and those delivering public services. They are the bedrock that underpins and gives meaning to the rules that govern public office, and they represent a common understanding of public service. However, the ethical values reflected in the Principles will not become the cultural norm within an organisation without active attention.” [First para of Lord Evan’s Forward] 

Strong ethical values must be “woven into every aspect” of the way government bodies and other public organisations operate, the Whitehall standards watchdog has warned.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life said while a “robust ethical culture” should be integral to the way organisations operate, too often it takes a crisis for leaders to act.

In a report highlighting best practice in the public sector, the committee said there should be “zero tolerance” for conduct that falls short of the required standards, with clear consequences when they are not met.

It noted there was no single ethics programme in Whitehall, and that while the Cabinet Office propriety and ethics team was able to provide advice, it was a small group and limited in what it could do.

The committee chairman, Lord Evans of Weardale, a former director general of MI5, said establishing a values-driven culture required positive action by the leadership of an organisation and could not be left to chance.

“Doing things in the right way and in the public interest is critical for public confidence in the bodies that operate on the public’s behalf and supports the delivery of public services,” he said

“A robust ethical culture supports effective risk management – if people see thinking about ethical issues as part of their job and feel safe to speak up, this can pick up potential concerns before they escalate.

“Our evidence shows that an ethical culture does not emerge by accident. It requires discussion and action.”

In its report, the committee said the evidence it received underlined the importance of the Nolan principles of public life, established after the cash-for-questions scandal with rocked Sir John Major’s government in the 1990s.

“We heard that zero tolerance of behaviour that does not align with the values of the organisation is essential for embedding good practice. Leaders must be clear that there is a line which, when crossed, results in consequences,” it said.

“Focusing on how to ensure that ethical values are woven into every aspect of how an organisation operates is critical to good leadership. Yet, disappointingly, it often takes a crisis for senior leaders to prioritise action in this area.

“Our strong view is that the ethical health of an organisation cannot be left to chance. Leaders must ensure that the principles of public life are integral to how public sector organisations operate and how the people in them make decisions and treat each other.”

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said the findings should be a “mark of shame” for Mr Sunak.

“Instead of building a strong ethical culture he’s paying lip service to integrity, while preserving the rotten regime of his predecessors with sleaze and scandal running rife on his watch.”

A Government spokesperson said: “The Government takes propriety and ethics in public life very seriously.

“Within departments, judgments on matters relating to ethics and standards are the responsibility of permanent secretaries, who can draw upon the expertise of the Cabinet Office’s Propriety and Ethics Team.”