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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.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life's Report "Leading in Practice"

27th January 2023


The Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) has this week published its latest report, entitled ‘Leading in Practice’. The report contains insights from leaders in the public, private and charitable sectors and also includes scenarios based on real examples. It can be downloaded from the CSPL’s website.

The report focuses on looking at how organisations have gone about embedding ethical standards and values in their culture and services, and sets out a series of questions to help leaders reflect on their own leadership and whether they can do more to further embed ethical standards into their organisations’ work practices. The questions identified by the CSPL are as follows:

Communicating values and leading by example

1. How do the people in your organisation know that you care about the Principles of Public Life?

2. What do you do to help people understand how the Principles of Public Life translate to the standards of behaviour expected in their day-to-day work?

3. How do you address behaviour that is not consistent with the Principles of Public Life?

4. How do you know that people across your organisation are hearing a consistent tone from their managers in relation to the standards of behaviour expected of them?

Encouraging a ‘speak up’ culture

5.  Are there clear and well-understood ways that people across your organisation can raise their concerns when things ‘just don’t feel right’? How do you know these routes are trusted?

6. What do you do to ensure that retaliation is not tolerated in your organisation?

7. How do you ensure you are listening to the concerns and suggestions of people in your organisation? Are you being open and transparent in communicating the outcome to people in your organisation, while respecting confidentiality?

8. How do you know the managers in your organisation are listening and responding well to concerns that are raised directly with them?

Training, discussion and decision‑making

9. Is your staff training specific to the ethical risks and challenges faced by your organisation?

10. How do you encourage leaders at all levels to discuss the practical application of the Principles of Public Life in their teams?

11. Have you considered whether the people in your organisation might benefit from dedicated support for considering ethical issues, such as ethics committees or counsellors?

12. How do you know that people in your organisation are making consistently good decisions that take into account the Principles of Public Life?


13. Is your board clear on their role in relation to the ethical culture of the organisation?

14. Does your risk assessment process identify and monitor the key ethical risks for your organisation?

15. Does your board have access to the range of data needed to assess and monitor the ethical health of your organisation and to identify potential areas of concern?

16. How do you ensure that your organisation takes necessary action where the data suggests that changes are needed?

17. When things have gone wrong in your organisation, could the signs have been spotted and addressed earlier?

Recruitment and performance management

18. Does your recruitment and selection process place sufficient weight on the extent to which candidates’ personal values align with the Principles of Public Life?

19.  How does your organisation’s selection process test the ability of candidates to exercise sound judgement when faced with ethical dilemmas?

20.  Do the performance management processes of your organisation give sufficient weight to how individuals deliver on their objectives, as well as the outcomes that are achieved?

The Standards Commission fully supports the CSPL’s approach and encourages leaders in public life work through the questions in order to test the “ethical health” of their organisations.

As Lord Evans, Chair of the CSPL, notes:

“Doing things in the right way and in the public interest is critical for public confidence in the bodies that operate on the public’s behalf and supports the delivery of public services. A robust ethical culture supports effective risk management - if people see thinking about ethical issues as part of their job and feel safe to speak up, this can pick up potential concerns before they escalate. A values-driven culture is also good for morale and can help attract and retain the highest calibre staff.

“… evidence shows that an ethical culture does not emerge by accident. It requires discussion and action.”