No-one wants the country to be where it is at present - the surge of the new variant after a year-long global pandemic, a new lockdown and the NHS under pressure like never before. This last year has probably taught us lots of things and shown us the importance – or unimportance – of others.
You would expect a Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life to say that standards matter, but the past year has highlighted the practical importance of standards to the relationship between the public and those that serve them. The discussion and debate over some of the decisions and trade-offs affecting all our lives is a clear illustration that people care deeply about how those decisions are made, not just the outcome.
How decisions are made – in the public interest – is ultimately what the 7 Principles of Public Life are about. Honesty, Integrity, Accountability, Objectivity, Openness, Selflessness and Leadership are the values that those serving the public, in whatever capacity, should demonstrate. High standards are a public good. They improve predictability and promote better outcomes for society, increasing public trust and understanding, and the functioning of the economy.
The Committee’s role is to promote high standards. We are not a regulator and have no remit to look at individual complaints or standards breaches but we carry out reviews and inquiries to help ensure that the Nolan principles are understood, embedded and lived up to in organisations across our public life. Many of the current standards bodies are a result of recommendations from our predecessors on the Committee over the last 25 years – for example, the independent Parliamentary Commissioners in the House of Commons and House of Lords, the Electoral Commission and the Commissioner for Public Appointments. These regulators act as important checks and balances in our system.
This year, the Committee will be continuing and completing two major reviews: a review of election finance, looking at the roles of the Electoral Commission, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Police in regulating the money spent on campaigning; and a major review of the standards landscape, Standards Matter 2, looking at gaps and unfinished business in the way standards are upheld. Both reviews involve talking to experts, practitioners, academics and the public about what works well and where the Committee might recommend reform to ensure high standards.
As well as open consultation and focus group research on specific issues, we will also be holding some online open evidence sessions in March as part of the Standards Matter 2 review so that anyone with an interest can watch live.
Our public consultation for Standards Matter 2 is open until 29th January. More than ever, high public standards matter. The Committee wants to hear your views on where and how standards are being upheld as well as ideas about what should be strengthened and how that can best be achieved.