ECS launch policy with Stephen Morgan MP Shadow Minister for Local Government (Communities)

We were really thrilled to talk with Stephen Morgan MP today at the Labour Party conference about our new policy paper, reproduced below.

Creating an ethical obligation in public service contracts

In June 2014, the Committee on Standards in Public Life published a report: Ethical Standards for Providers of Public Services. The government has made clear that the Seven Principles of Public Life first set down by Lord Nolan - honesty, integrity, accountability, leadership, openness, selflessness and objectivity - should apply to all those delivering services to the public.

In the five years since the report was published, progress has been very limited. A follow up report in May 2018, The Continuing Importance of Ethical Standards for Public Service Providers, said the following:

The Committee found that the government has made some improvements in how it manages the ethical conduct of contractors as part of a broader maturing of outsourcing practices. There is some, limited evidence to suggest that the enhanced skill of the civil service puts some pressure on suppliers, but not necessarily to improve the ethical nature of their service delivery. The civil service has otherwise made little progress in adopting the Committee’s recommendations; limited progress on introducing formal measures to reinforce the application of ethical standards; there has also been little done in the ‘Commercial Strategy’ to break down isolated pockets of commercial knowledge and the application of ethical standards since the Committee’s 2014 report.

We believe that a general duty should be placed upon all providers to behave and act ethically in all their dealings with public sector clients, customers and the whole supply chain. Conduct and behaviours should be tested against the Nolan Principles.

This duty can be written into any public service contract and should be accompanied by:

  • A confidential reporting process for anyone to raise concerns about providers’ conduct, supported and publicised by all parties.

  • A routine (at least annual) audit requirement to test conduct and behaviours.

  • A reactive auditing and investigation facility to test any areas of concern at any time, particularly in response to issues raised by any staff member.

  • A clear obligation that all findings arising from audits and investigations will be published prominently on both parties’ websites.

The previous conduct of a service provider should always be considered as part of any procurement decision.

Local Government leaders can adopt this approach as a matter of policy without the need for any legislative or regulatory changes, and we urge them to do so.