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Five steps to higher standards in public life: What should happen now

How the government should strengthen the standards system

The government’s U-turn in the Owen Paterson case has yet again raised the question of how standards in public life can be upheld. The public outcry triggered by the government’s heavy-handed approach to Paterson’s suspension is just the latest in a year of scandals – from Greensill to Matt Hancock and the prime minister’s flat refurbishment – which have exposed the weakness of the UK’s standards regime. The government needs to recognise these failings and make changes now, however uncomfortable those may be for ministers. Failing to do so will lead to further erosion of public trust in this government, in government overall, and in the UK’s reputation in the world. This is the choice the prime minister faces – change is only possible with his leadership.

These questions and more were discussed at our conference on standards on 4 November, the day of the government’s U-turn following its attempt to overturn Owen Paterson’s suspension from the House of Commons for breaches of lobbying rules, and the day of Paterson’s resignation as an MP. 

This paper sets out the IfG’s recommendations – drawn from the conference and our wider work on standards in public life – on how the government should strengthen that system.

Watch highlights from our ethical standards in government conference

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