• Michael Pollitt, Senior Manager |
  • Simon Stiggear, Director |
4 min read

The UK’s score in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) has fallen to a historic low.

Transparency International (TI)’s annual flagship report ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of corruption in the public sector. It uses data from 13 external sources to allocate a score for each between zero and 100, with lower scores indicating high levels of corruption.

After a dramatic decline last year, covered by us in a previous piece, the UK’s score fell further in a recently published update to the CPI, from 73 to 71, its lowest score since the yearly ranking began. 

What this means in context

The UK’s results were part of an overall downward trend observed by TI.

Most countries had “made little to no progress” in tackling public-sector corruption, with the average score remaining unchanged at 43 for the twelfth consecutive year.

The average score in Western Europe and the European Union dropped for the first time in a decade to 65 out of 100, with the CPI attributing the slump to “weak accountability” in the public sector.

What this could mean for our clients

Several of the CPI’s observations and recommendations target the UK specifically. We set out below what these could mean for our clients in the private sector.

1. Greater focus on conflicts of interest

In an oblique reference to the ongoing scandals around “VIP lane” access to public procurement contracts during the pandemic, the UK’s poor performance in the CPI is attributed partly to the perceived “abuse of public office for private gain”.

These criticisms will add momentum to the Government’s Procurement Act, which is set to put a legal duty on public authorities to identify, mitigate, and review conflicts of interest in their procurement processes, with enforcement due to commence in October.

Firms involved in public contracts may therefore wish to review their procedures for recording, managing, and monitoring conflicts of interest, in order to stay ahead of this trend.

2. Tighter controls on interactions with public officials

The CPI also singles out the UK for its “persistent scandals” in the area of lobbying.

These scandals have already fuelled anti-corruption commitments on both sides of the political divide. In July, the government introduced a wave of reforms designed to improve lobbying transparency in response to the Greensill exposé. At the same time, the opposition drew up plans to ban ministers from taking lobbying jobs related to their former brief for up to five years.

This rhetoric is likely to escalate in the run up to the election, not least as part of the UK Anti-Corruption Strategy. The Strategy is still unpublished at the time of writing but is expected to focus on regulating interactions between the private and public sectors in response to recent scandals.

Private sector firms would therefore be well advised to re-evaluate their lobbying controls, to ensure they adequately mitigate the risk of any inappropriate influence, as scrutiny in this area increases.

3. New leadership doubling down on enforcement

Finally, it was hardly surprising when the UK was called out in this latest CPI for its continued failure to reappoint an Anti-Corruption Champion.

However, this debate, covered by us in a previous piece, has moved on since TI last drew attention to it. Rather than simply calling for the re-instatement of the UK Anti-Corruption Champion, the UK opposition’s electoral pledges include the establishment of a “Covid Corruption Commissioner” with a remit to recoup taxpayer-funds lost to public procurement scandals during the pandemic.

Viewed in this context, there is a clear consensus, from voices within civil society and Westminster, that the UK is overdue a leadership figure to oversee its enforcement in the area of corruption. 

What happens next

While this year’s CPI results do emphasise some worrying trends, not least across Europe, we hope that it will act as a catalyst for legislative and industry change. This change could manifest partly in the form of the European Directive on Combating Corruption which we expect to be agreed later this year.

Finally, we should look to 2024 as a year of opportunity for the anti-bribery and corruption agenda. As the effects of global conflict and the climate crisis continue to increase the level of inherent risk, we hope the countries called out in the CPI will take this as an incentive to reverse its worrying trends, through increased collaboration, focus, enforcement, and leadership.

For the UK at least, increased leadership in the form of a “Champion,” or “Commissioner”, and increased focus in the form of a new Anti-Corruption Strategy would be a good place to start.

For information on how we are helping our clients to mitigate increasing international bribery and corruption risks, please contact Simon Stiggear or Michael Pollitt.