News 07th Jan 2022

Looking ahead: What’s in store for 2022

Rachel Davies Teka

Head of Advocacy

Rachel Davies Teka is Head of Advocacy at TI-UK, and co-chair of the Bond Anti-Corruption Group. You can tweet her @rachelcerysd.

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As the new year begins, many eyes will be on the Government’s approach to Britain’s corruption-related challenges. These include the UK’s continued role as a global hub for dirty money, concerns over Covid-related procurement, and the recent crisis of trust following a barrage of political corruption scandals, to name but a few.

There’s no avoiding the fact that if Britain wants to succeed in playing a global leadership role, it must get its own house in order. There are no shortcuts.

We know that a new plan to address these corruption-related challenges will be in the works this year thanks to the recent publication of the UK’s third annual update on progress against the 2017-2022 Anti-Corruption Strategy.

The Strategy features 134 specific commitments across six priority areas, such as reducing corruption in public procurement and working with other countries to combat corruption.

The Update, covering activity during 2020, was delivered alongside a welcome announcement that officials have already begun work to launch a successor to the Strategy once the current iteration expires at the end of this year.

 

So, what progress has the Government shared?

The Year 3 Update contains a useful tracker which gives an overview of the Government’s self-assessment of progress against each of the 134 commitments.

The commitment to table legislation to bring transparency over the overseas companies that own UK property is marked as off track, and in fact has remained so throughout 2021. Although draft legislation on property ownership transparency was published in 2018, the Government is yet to prioritise parliamentary time to make this law. This should be legislated for at the earliest opportunity alongside measures to reform Companies House, ensuring that information on the UK beneficial ownership register is accurate and useful.

At December’s Summit for Democracy, the Prime Minister committed to move these promises forward in 2022. Time will tell if the PM is as good as his word on this. The answer will rest on whether parliamentary time is scheduled in the upcoming third session.

The Update also notes that the Government published its response to the 2017 call for evidence on corporate criminal liability. The Government tasked the Law Commission to review the current rules, with options to be published in spring this year. The longstanding difficulty of securing successful prosecutions against large companies for serious crimes highlights why changes to this legislation are long overdue.

On political corruption, the Update states that the Government is revisiting the rules on post-public business appointments. Our long-standing view is that ACOBA, the body that advises former ministers on whether they can accept certain jobs after leaving office, should be replaced with a statutory body that can monitor whether its advice has been taken up - and apply sanctions if not.

At present, ACOBA lacks teeth and offers little deterrent to former ministers who ignore its advice or fail to seek it in the first place. The Update provides no comment on the recent scandal around paid lobbying and the subsequent fallout, although that’s to be expected given its 2020 remit and therefore one could argue it falls out of scope. However, undue lobbying was a problem long before 2021. The Westferry scandal, for example, captured headlines during 2020 itself. Last November’s lobbying scandal simply highlighted a problem that has been brewing in parliament for many years.

The Committee on Standards will close its consultation into parliamentary codes of conduct in February, and we expect a report and revised code of conduct to be put to MPs for approval by Easter. This is an opportunity to strengthen the rules to ensure there are fewer loopholes that allow corrupt behaviour to slip through. For example, we recommend an outright ban on MPs providing paid parliamentary advice, and an improvement to the quality and timeliness of ministerial meetings data.

Failing to increase transparency and accountability in UK politics would be a deliberate choice to leave the door wide open to impropriety in public office. My hope is that those in Parliament and Government choose to strengthen the defences of the UK political system against sleaze this year and begin to win back public trust.

Another area of reform to watch in 2022 is procurement, with the Government publishing their response to the Green Paper consultation at the end of 2021 and legislation expected to follow this year. The Year 3 Update acknowledges serious concerns about the Government’s procurement response to the pandemic, as outlined by a National Audit Office report in November 2020. Our own research, published in April 2021, found corruption red flags in 20% of the UK’s PPE procurement. The Update confirmed that a government response to the Boardman Reports into public procurement and the Greensill scandal will be included in the upcoming ‘Year 4 Update’ on 2021 government anti-corruption activities.

 

What to expect next?

The report notes that the Year 4 Update is due in early 2022. As it covers 2020, the Year 3 Update rightly comments on the considerable impact of the pandemic on work across government. While some delays to publication can be expected because of this, we hope that the next update will be published closer to its planned date than the past two iterations.

At the start of each year many of us make new resolutions, but our advice to the Government would be to cast its eye back on those it has already made. 2022 should be a year to deliver on what has been committed to in the anti-corruption space, such as the property register, and put in place proper safeguards to ensure integrity in public life. If the Government wants to move on from the Christmas parties, it will need more than a dry January to win back trust.