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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.

Why Transparency Matters

26th May 2021

Politicians and other individuals in public life are expected to register and declare both their interests, and any gifts and hospitality received.

This can sound like red tape - just another annoying and pointless task for them to remember to do. Surely requiring someone who is already busy or overworked to do so is simply bureaucratic nonsense?

Well… no!

The requirement to register and declare interests allows the public to have confidence that those who are responsible for making decisions on contracts, procurement and service delivery are doing so in the public interest, and not that of themselves or their friends, family or associates.

These decisions affect everyone as they concern how public funds – our money – is spent. 

Transparency about interests helps to prevent cronyism, which is where jobs, contracts and other advantages are awarded to a politician’s friends or associates.

Not only does this enrich or benefit those who may be undeserving, it also disadvantages individuals or companies who are more qualified to fill the role or provide the service.

While sometimes urgent decisions need to be made, the default should not be to appoint a friend to a role or award a contract to a close associate or neighbour. The fact that they may be able to provide the service or supply the goods does not mean they are the best person for the role or that they can provide best value for money.

In the grand scheme of things, it may seem trivial to care about who paid for a politician’s holiday, property renovations or even their lunch. However, the need to register gifts and hospitality matters. Otherwise, the public has no way of knowing whether that politician may then feel obliged or otherwise inclined to award a job or contract to the individual or company who provided them with the gift.

It should be noted that even if the politician is not directly involved in the decision-making process, it is possibly likely that they may nonetheless influence that decision-making, given their position of power.

The Councillors’ Code of Conduct and Model Code for Members of Devolved Public Bodies in Scotland make it clear that certain interests, gifts and hospitality required to be registered and declared. A failure to do so can result in a breach of the relevant Code and a sanction (including suspension and disqualification) being imposed.

Transparency does matter.