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The Government’s new Anti-Corruption Champion: Time for Action

Written by Robert Barrington on Wednesday, 13 May 2015

As the new Cameron Government takes shape, the post of Anti-Corruption Champion has been announced (or at least leaked, since there has been no official announcement)*: it will be Eric Pickles, formerly Secretary of State at the Department of Communities and Local Government.


 

As the new Cameron Government takes shape, the post of Anti-Corruption Champion has been announced (or at least leaked, since there has been no official announcement)*: it will be Eric Pickles, formerly Secretary of State at the Department of Communities and Local Government.

The good news is that an appointment has been made swiftly (remember the four month gap last year when the post was vacant after the last Cabinet re-shuffle?) and indeed that it continues to exist.  The less good news is that it is no longer considered a Cabinet-rank post.

In some senses that matters very much.  A Cabinet role shows that the government takes the issue of corruption seriously and has given the post to someone with sufficient seniority to get it on the agenda of colleagues who don’t consider it a priority.  But it also may not matter, if the post-holder has sufficient credibility and drive to make the post effective.

So a lot depends on the individual.  Which brings us to Eric Pickles.  Where does he stand on the issue of corruption?  It’s a mixed picture.    He is known in anti-corruption circles for only two things, one good, one bad.  The good was the action he took over the mayor of Tower Hamlets, one of the major local government corruption scandals of recent years.  The bad was the abolition of the anti-corruption activities carried out by the Audit Commission, and failure to replace them with any alternative. Does this mean that as head of DCLG he felt corruption was unimportant?   Or was it just a low priority until a scandal broke?  The truth is we don’t know, so it’s all eyes on Mr Pickles.

What we do know, after having had five Anti-Corruption Champions over ten years (Hilary Benn, John Hutton, Jack Straw, Ken Clarke, Matthew Hancock), is what makes a good Champion.  It’s not rocket science: a willingness to pick up the brief, to form a plan, to articulate the plan internally and externally, to be accountable; and above all an ability to get things moving in a coordinated way across government, since anti-corruption activities are split among so many departments.  

We also know what makes a poor Champion.  Someone who does nothing but provides a fig leaf for government inaction and makes the occasional speech revelling in past glories.  Or someone who is hopelessly out of their depth in a complex subject and unwilling or unable to do anything.

Mr Pickles takes up the post with a reputation for getting things done, and for being an effective cabinet minister.  It is important to the nation that he is effective as the Champion.  The Government is no longer in denial about the existence of corruption in the UK, and rightly so.  It is a problem that affects the lives of all of us.  Corruption creates injustice, perpetuates poverty, embeds self-interested elites – whether it is cronyistic councillors feathering their own nests, City bankers rigging the markets, a housing market distorted by investments of corrupt overseas capital,  or people trafficked into the UK for modern slavery.  The Prime Minister has spoken about the need to tackle injustice and promote fairness in the UK.  Tackling corruption should lie at the heart of that pledge.

The new Champion starts with two advantages denied his predecessors: a National Anti-Corruption Plan and a small core civil service team.  It is important to all of us in the UK that he succeeds: we wish him well.

[*Note: The announcement has received wide press coverage, including the Conservative Home website and has apparently been re-titled the ‘Anti-Corruption Tsar’; but did not show up this morning on the websites of the Government Parliament or ericpickles.com.  We therefore await formal confirmation.  Three calls to No.10’s press office have not resulted in further information.] 

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Read 3594 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 12:18
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Robert Barrington

Robert is TI-UK's Executive Director. You can view his full bio here, and tweet him @TIukED.

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