On Monday, the Committee is holding a horizon-scanning event with central and local government, regulators, academics and others. It's a chance for us to take a step back and make sure that our understanding of emerging issues is well-informed and tested with those with an interest in these issues or who have first-hand experience of dealing with individual cases and complaints.
We will also be publishing ‘Setting the Standard’ - our annual report (2016/17), forward plan (2017/18) and strategic plan, which detail the areas we have focused on over the last year, and sets out the areas on which we intend to carry out further work this year. Our strategic plan looks further ahead, setting out the Committee’s vision. Our ambition is to strive for excellence in standards; it's what we will push for and promote at every opportunity.
While the Committee has no remit to investigate individual cases or complaints, we retain a close interest in patterns and trends, monitoring how issues are handled and whether complaints continue to build. High standards in public life are not about unachievable perfection; all organisations make mistakes and things go wrong from time to time. What is important is setting clear expectations around standards of conduct and maintaining a vigilant, ethical culture to support that. It’s how senior leaders, organisations and individuals deal with problems that arise that matters - effective, timely and meaningful responses are an opportunity to restore and rebuild trust – or lose it.
When things go wrong, we are often asked why we aren’t launching an immediate inquiry? The balance for a standing Committee like ours is to remain alert to emerging scandals, as well as progressing other long standing, substantial projects. As a small Committee, we must make our choices wisely, using our resource where we can have the greatest impact, often where other regulators are not in action or scrutiny is not already underway.
Choosing the subject of our inquiries is not a scientific process of course; we rely on a mixture of research, awareness of public concern, conversations with interested organisations or ethics bodies and media coverage - as well as our membership’s diverse range of experience. On occasion, we'll carry out scoping exercises or hold a preliminary seminar to help extract the key standards issues. We also try to work with interested parties and appropriate organisations where we have a common agenda or where we can lend weight to support their initiatives to promote the Nolan principles.
Keeping our ears to the ground is an important part of our work. Being the Committee on standards in public life means we must understand and reflect what the public expect - and keep testing that.
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