Accountability, honesty, integrity, selflessness, leadership, openness and objectivity – these are the values of public service collectively known as the Nolan principles. Well known to most public servants, they spell out the standards that the public expects of those that serve them. But who makes sure that those in public life live up to them? This was the question raised last week, as a challenge to the committee I chair, by Alastair Campbell.
Campbell made some good points about the concerns around, and challenges to, standards in public life – and particularly about the complexity of the accountability arrangements in our democracy. But in raising these issues, he misunderstood entirely what it is my job, and the job of my committee, to do. In doing so, he questioned our credibility, and at a time when trust in government and public service is under threat.
The Committee on Standards in Public Life is not a select committee, nor is it a civil service body. The majority of its members are independent, with political representation from the three main UK political parties. Our remit is simple: to monitor and report on the arrangements in place to support high standards in public life. By deliberate design, we work with a very small staff and we must remain impartial.
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