Corruption undermines security, prosperity, democracy and confidence in public institutions.
Left unchecked, it can have devastating effects on citizens’ quality of life at home and overseas. These effects, including poverty and inequality, hit the most vulnerable people hardest.
The UK’s leading anti-corruption organisations are launching a manifesto of 10 actions this month for the UK to fight corruption. As Brexit and domestic constitutional issues paralyse politics, its message could not come at a more important time.
From undue influence and conflicts of interest, to opaque public contracts and dirty money in our economy, corruption in the UK is real. There is an urgent need to address it through public policy and leadership.
The UK’s standing in the world, our ability to play a leadership role in global politics and the efficacy of our overseas aid spending depends on taking corruption seriously. Tackling corruption in the UK and the role the UK plays in corruption abroad, meanwhile, is essential to rebuild faith in politics, promote integrity in business and build trusted institutions at home and abroad.
The UK has made important strides in recent years, hosting a major Anti-Corruption Summit in 2016, and launching a national five-year Anti-Corruption Strategy for 2017-20.
However, the absence of any mention of key planks of that strategy in the Queen’s speech on 14 October is a cause for real concern. In particular, the speech contained no bill for the long-awaited register of who owns property in the UK, which was a major absence in terms of fighting corruption.
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For too long our property market has been used by political leaders, some of whom are from aid-receiving countries, to launder corrupt and stolen assets. Providing a safe haven for corrupt assets undermines the UK’s aid programme, and leaves us open to accusations of hypocrisy.
Our Anti-Corruption Group is a coalition of British NGOs who have witnessed first-hand the devastating effects that corruption has on society. Our members represent 13 different organisations, all of whom have an emphasis on fighting corruption.
We are calling on all political parties to join the fight against corruption by committing to taking concrete action in the following areas:
- Ending the UK’s role as a safe haven for dirty money by introducing the register of who owns property in the UK and making sure Companies House verifies who owns companies in the UK.
- Delivering the 2019 economic crime plan by making sure there are sufficient resources for police and prosecutors fighting corruption in the UK.
- Cleaning up UK politics by reforming political party funding rules and getting a grip on conflicts of interest by giving the Electoral Commission and bodies like the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments proper enforcement powers.
- Making sure large companies are held to account for economic crimes such as money laundering and fraud to help end corporate wrong-doing.
- Driving transparency in the natural resource sector by improving company reporting requirements in the UK and internationally.
- Promoting an ambitious agenda for transparency around public decision-making in the UK through greater freedom of information and open access to public contracts and court data.
- Establishing first-class fair and transparent procurement processes, which ensure that all contracts are made public, and that corrupt bidders are refused public contracts.
- Developing the base of evidence by improving our understanding of corruption in the UK, including the UK’s corruption footprint overseas.
- Supporting the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies to publish registers of companies and trusts at the earliest opportunity.
- Leading the way in the global fight against corruption by sharing best practice and enshrining anti-corruption and transparency provisions in all future trade deals.
Much of what we are asking for has been recognised within government as vital steps to maintaining the UK’s reputation for fair play, security and prosperity. But the UK cannot afford to lose momentum on getting its own house in order.
We hope that our call for action will encourage all political parties to commit to fighting corruption so that the UK can continue to command respect on the global stage. We want to make sure that the UK’s overseas aid programme is supported by policies that tackle the underlying cause of poverty, of which corruption is a significant part.