Outsourced public services ‘still not adopting ethical standards’

11 May 18

Little significant progress has been made on reinforcing ethical standards in outsourced public services, the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life has concluded.

It also suggested a consultation be set up looking at whether the Freedom of Information Act should apply to private sector providers working on public sector contracts, the committee said in report out yesterday.

Chair Lord Bew noted “very little progress” had been made on implementing the recommendations of the committee’s 2014 report, aimed at enhancing the ethical standards of contractors commissioned by the public sector.

“Disappointingly, very little progress has been made on implementing these recommendations and evidence shows that most service providers need to do more to demonstrate best practice in ethical standards,” Bew said. 

He called for services providers to “recognise that the Nolan Principles apply to them, for moral courage among key financial and other professionals in securing and maintaining high ethical standards”.

The Nolan Principles were drawn up in 1995 and are seven ethical standards people in public office are expected to uphold: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

Bew added: “Some [service providers] remain dismissive of the Nolan Principles or adopt a ‘pick and mix’ approach which is not in the public interest.”

The committee noted one-third of government spending is on external providers and that “the public is clear that they expect common ethical standards”. But some providers were not applying these public sector ethical standards in their work, the Lords concluded. 

Bew said the committee called for a “consultation on the extension of the application of the Freedom of Information Act to private sector providers where information relates to the performance of a contract with government for the delivery of public services”.

The committee recommended that service providers should acknowledge the Nolan Principles applied to them.

Bew also said: “The committee remains of the view that more must be done to encourage strong and robust cultures of ethical behaviour in those delivering public services.”

The CSPL report suggested commissioners of services should include a ‘statement of intent’ in addition to contracts to set out the ethical behaviours expected by the government.

In the light of the collapse of Carillion, the committee suggested it is “essential” that ethical standards are reinforced for those delivering services with public money.

The report released yesterday is one in a series being done by the committee on ethical standards of providers of public services.

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