News 30th Jan 2024

CPI 2023: As the UK’s score hits an all-time low, the time for action on corruption is now

Jon Narcross

Senior Media and Communications Manager

Jon manages media and communications for Transparency International’s UK programmes including work on illicit finance, money and politics and political integrity.

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For the second year in a row, the UK has received its lowest-ever score on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

This year’s score of 71 (-2 on last year) means that the UK now sits at 20th place in the global ranking, a sharp drop from its position just outside the top ten in 2021. The result is a worrying development that does little for the UK’s standing on the global stage.

The UK’s score represents the most significant drop in Western Europe over the past five years, putting it ahead of countries like Poland (-6) and Austria, and globally alongside the likes of Myanmar (-9), Nicaragua (-8) and Turkey (17)

What is the CPI?

The Corruption Perceptions Index draws upon several different surveys of business leaders and experts to score and rank countries by their perceived level of public sector corruption.

Questions generally include their views on topics such as (mis)management of public funds, the corrupting influence of political donors and bribery in the award of public contracts. Whilst it’s not a measure of instances of corruption in business and politics, it offers a snapshot of the concerns of business leaders and experts towards corruption in their countries.

And in the UK, the concerns are significant.

A wake-up call

For many, this year’s results won’t come as a surprise. Impropriety in high office has become an all-too-frequent feature of public life recently, with little sign of abating, while the safeguards against such behaviour remain broken.

The UK is still without an anti-corruption champion following the resignation of John Penrose MP back in June 2022. Penrose, resigned from the role over his inability to defend what he considered "a fundamental breach of the ministerial code." by then Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Next week we see the COVID-19 inquiry turn its attention to the pandemic procurement processes that saw multiple scandals over lucrative government contracts to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and the government’s so-called VIP lane.

You add to this the regular cycles of scandals in the press over issues like lobbying, money in politics as well as patronage in the award of public honours and the results of this year’s survey begin to make sense. It should come as no surprise that evidence shows Briton’s trust in politics has fallen significantly since the pandemic as issues of political integrity have hit the headlines.

Just last week polling by the UK Anti-Corruption Coalition (of which we are a part) found the public are more likely to associate politicians with economic crime than oligarchs – a worrying glimpse of just where public perceptions of corruption in the UK are.

So what can be done to fix it?

As bad as the UK’s position has become changes can be made to reverse this decline. For too long issues around corruption have been put on the ‘too difficult pile’ with the focus of government on other, easier wins elsewhere.

Here at Transparency International UK, we’ve been calling on the government to take decisive action to raise and enforce standards in government.

The first step towards this would be to place the ethics watchdogs like Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA), the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests (IAMI) and the House of Lords Appointments Commission (HOLAC) and codes they oversee on a statutory footing.

We’ve also called for an end to the corrosive influence of big money in politics. Capping political donations and reducing campaign spending limits and reporting thresholds (reversing the recent changes made by the government) would go a long way in ensuring that decisions are taken for the good of the public, and not just those with the deepest pockets.

To do this the government must show leadership and a genuine commitment to transparency and accountability. When he first entered office, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke on the steps of Downing Street and promised a government of integrity and professionalism – but now it is time for action. Appointing an anti-corruption champion and pursuing an ambitious anti-corruption strategy facing down both the issues of international kleptocracy and corruption in politics here at home would go far to ensure that Sunak’s legacy is more than just words.

The reforms we’ve outlined would go a long way to improving not just the perception of corruption in the UK but also tackling the causes of so many of the scandals that have tainted Britain’s reputation for good governance in recent years.

As the Foreign Secretary once said, ‘Corruption is the cancer at the heart of so many of the problems we face around the world today.’ It’s time we addressed this disease that now afflicts our shores before we become the sick man of Europe.