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This blog post was published under the 2010-2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Common standards make common sense

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Accountability, Ethical standards for providers of public services

The Seven Principles of Public Life – honesty, integrity, accountability, selflessness, objectivity, leadership and openness - first set down by Lord Nolan in 1995 – are now widely accepted baselines of expected public sector behaviour.

In Nolan’s time, services were delivered in the traditional way by public servants in job centres, libraries and surgeries. All that has changed - an estimated third of all public spending on services is now outsourced to companies, social enterprises and charities.

Research conducted for my Committee by IPSOS Mori showed that the public do not necessarily distinguish between types of provider, but that they have a clear expectation that all providers – from whatever sector - should observe common ethical standards. For the public it seems “how” things are done is as important as “what” is done.

Our report Ethical standards for providers of public services makes clear that the seven principles apply to all delivering public services on behalf of the taxpayer. This is not about adding another unnecessary layer of bureaucracy – it is making sure that expected ethical considerations are made explicit in the commissioning process. Ethical standards must be formalised into the contracts and monitoring arrangements for companies and charities delivering outsourced public services and those commissioning public services need to regard ethical awareness as part of their professional commercial capability.

It is clear from our discussions with the CBI and others around this report that many businesses already grasp the importance of ethical standards to winning and maintaining public service work. This issue was also at the heart of recent reports on government contracting by both the NAO and the Public Accounts Committee who view standards as a necessary component of managing public money and fundamental to the right use of public funds.

Recent scandals have demonstrated the cost and damage to business reputation from failing to observe high ethical standards. There is also the wider damage done to public trust. But even more concerning is the impact contract failures can have on vulnerable individuals, patients or children who need the service and may not have any other choice.


CSPL is keen to collect evidence and best practice.  If you have experience of addressing ethical standards in contracts please contact the Committee at

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This article was first published on the CBI Public Services Network on 30 September 2014.

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