cover image: Trust in Public Life: Restoring the role of constitutional watchdogs


Trust in Public Life: Restoring the role of constitutional watchdogs

21 Mar 2024

This report comes at an important juncture, when public trust in politicians has fallen to an all time low. There is a wealth of evidence from survey data about the decline in trust; not least from the Constitution Unit’s own surveys, as part of our Democracy in the UK after Brexit project. Those surveys show that the public value honesty in politicians above qualities like being clever, working hard or getting things done; but only 6 per cent of the public believe that the system works to deal with politicians who do not act with integrity. This report is about seven watchdogs which monitor and regulate the conduct of the executive. They are: the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA); the Civil Service Commission (CSC); the Commissioner for Public Appointments (OCPA); the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL); the House of Lords Appointments Commission (HOLAC); the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests; and the Office of the Registrar for Consultant Lobbyists (ORCL). We have not addressed the separate issue of an anti-corruption commissioner. A series of reports in recent years, from CSPL, PACAC, Sir Nigel Boardman, the Brown Commission and the Grieve Commission, have called for the system of regulating standards to be strengthened. At present, a patchwork of bodies exists with a varying legal basis, insufficient independence and inadequate powers. But the stream of recommendations from these official bodies and others has complicated the debate on reform; in particular, whether to go for a wholesale reform programme, or to adopt a more gradualist approach. This report analyses the different options. The role and functions of most of the watchdogs can easily be strengthened using prerogative powers while considering any further strengthening through legislation. The report starts with basic principles. Any reform programme needs to have clear objectives; a realistic timetable; and engage with the watchdogs themselves, government, parliamentarians and the public. To be successful, the standards regime and individual watchdogs need to be independent; accountable; effective; economical; accessible; and trusted.
governance trust uk


Robert Hazell, Peter Riddell

Published in
United Kingdom

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