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The Standards Commission is an independent body whose purpose is to encourage high ethical standards in public life through the promotion and enforcement of Codes of Conduct for councillors and those appointed to the boards of devolved public bodies.

Leadership and Culture

31st May 2022

Leadership and Culture

One of the key principles of public life (sometimes known as ‘the Nolan principles’) is leadership. Holders of public office, including politicians, should demonstrate the other key principles of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness and honesty in their own behaviour and treat others with respect. Those in public life are required to actively promote and robustly support the key principles and to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.

This definition of leadership, which was initially outlined by Lord Nolan in 1995 in the first report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life and recently updated[1], recognises that being in a position of power is not all about making decisions. It is about leading by example to ensure that the high ethical standards the public are entitled to expect are met and promoted.

As we’ve noted before in this blog[2], adherence to the key principles and demonstrating high ethical standards in general is essential to ensure the public has trust and confidence in those in public life. We’ve noted that trust is crucial as the successful delivery of policies and services depend largely on the response from the public.

A lack of trust in politicians and others in public life can also have an adverse effect on participation.  Members of the public may be discouraged from standing for office if they have no faith in those in charge. We need as many people as possible to participate in our democracy, to ensure all views and interests are represented.

But leadership is also important in terms of an organisation’s culture. How politicians and others in public life conduct themselves and interact with others impacts on their working environment. If, for example, a national or local politician fails to act with integrity or is rude or disrespectful (or if they fail to address such behaviour in others), then such conduct is reinforced or normalised. This can create a hostile and unpleasant workplace and can adversely affect how an organisation operates.

So, it’s essential that politicians and others in public life lead by example and actively promote and support the key principles through leadership. The public and those working for them have a right to expect that they will do so.