Transparency International UK in its latest report highlights the corruption risk within local government planning and the need to do more, and yet with the deterioration of anti-corruption governance in planning, procurement and housing is a national response possible in this local issue.
Wherever there is power, greed, and money, there is corruption
It was a pleasure to listen to the discussion between Rachel Davies, Transparency International UK, Liz David-Barrett and John Penrose MP and UK Anti-Corruption champion on the findings in the TI report and recommended action.
In its latest report Permission Accomplished: Assessing corruption risks in local government planning Transparency International UK outlined several key risks:
Indicators of potential bribery through excessive gifts, hospitality and political donations
In assessing conflicts of interest risk, TI found 32 councillors across 24 councils holding critical decision making positions in their local planning system whilst also working for developers
Opaque lobbying from interested parties where no minutes were taken in meetings between developers, councillors and their officials
weak oversight within councils that would have ensured probity in the planning process
As far back as 2012 TI have highlighted that changes in local government anti-corruption governance that included the abolition of the Standards Board and national code of conduct could have significant impact on UK anti-corruption efforts and in fact create an environment for corruption to thrive.
In its recent assessment of corruption risk within planning decisions 3 key areas were reviewed:
Engaging external stakeholders
Managing private interests
Banding each council into anti-corruption performance TI highlighted that all local government organisation assessed performance was inadequate.
Some of the challenges raised within the TI discussions with the UK Anti-Corruption champion included the point that local councils have different corruption risks, suggesting that one size doesn't fit all when looking at a risk mitigation approach. Issues such as the lack of external audit additionally increases the likelihood of corruption to go on undetected.
It was commented that there appears to be a lack of clarify and understanding of where fraud can be reported within local government organisations and what, if any, action will be taken in relation to these allegations. It was also highlighted by local councils present that there were significant challenges in raising and addressing these types of risk with senior local government officials.
TI in their report made a significant number of recommendation to mitigate corruption risk within planning that could be achieved through minimal cost.
However, looking at the local government approach to anti-corruption there are two key areas that need to be addressed if there is any opportunity to have a significant anti-corruption impact in local government.
Individual corruption risk assessment should be carried out on each local government to understand their specific risks and mitigation requirements
Introduce national anti-corruption standards for local government which focuses on people, processes and controls that all organisations can work towards and measure performance
There have been a number of reports over the past decade that have highlighted the corruption risk within local government, and Transparency International UK have added to this weight of research and evidence that outlines the continued risk and deterioration of national anti-corruption efforts and protection of the public purse.
The UK Anti-Corruption Action Plan highlights the opportunity of the public to use the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 to help local people to hold councils and local bodies in England to account for their spending decisions. However, a lack of transparency is identified as a significant risk in local government decision making including the lack of documented minutes of meetings with developers. It is clear that there is an inconsistent approach across the UK, so is it time for the UK's Anti-Corruption strategy to be revisited?