Transparency International recently released its 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index, which ranks the perceived levels of public sector corruption in 168 countries and territories. The UK’s score and ranking improved from previous years, placing 10th equal alongside Germany and Luxembourg.

On 27 January 2016, Transparency International released its 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index. The Index, which provides a helpful benchmark for anti-corruption compliance, measures perceived levels of public sector corruption in 168 countries and territories. The perceived level of corruption is assessed on a scale from 0 to 100, with 0 indicating a perception that the country is highly corrupt and 100 indicating that the country is perceived as very clean. None of the countries assessed in the Index received a score of 100, and two thirds received scores below 50.

The United Kingdom received a score of 81, placing it 10th equal alongside Germany and Luxembourg. The UK’s score reflected a three point increase from 2014, when it ranked 14th and a seven point increase from 2012 when it was ranked 17th, so there is an upward trend. The top of the 2015 Index is dominated by European countries, with Denmark, Finland and Sweden taking the first three places. Other countries in the top 10 include New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Singapore and Canada. The top performing countries were found to share a number of key characteristics such as high levels of press freedom, readily available public access to budget information, high levels of integrity among people in power, and non-discriminatory and independent judiciaries. Transparency International nevertheless expressed concern that some countries with high scores were still associated with corruption abroad.

As a region, the EU and Western Europe achieved the highest average score of 67, compared to the global average of 43. Like the UK, Austria, Greece, the Czech Republic and Slovakia received improved scores in 2015 while Hungary, Turkey and Spain all received lower scores than in previous years.

Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia were ranked at the bottom of the Index.

Each country’s score is calculated on the basis of responses to surveys and assessments carried out by 12 independent institutions which include international non-governmental organisations and private research entities specialising in governance and business climate analysis. Empirical data, such as the number of prosecutions or the number of reported bribes, is not regarded as an accurate method of identifying how corrupt or otherwise a country’s public sector is perceived to be.

Despite the UK’s high ranking, Transparency International questioned the extent to which significant improvement over recent years by countries such as the UK can be attributed to genuine reform (the Index measures perceptions of corruption). It referred to the “relentless stream of banking scandals” in Western Europe as “irrefutable proof that the financial sector – banking in particular – is in dire need of reform.”

Nonetheless, it is no coincidence that the UK’s improved score and ranking follow on from a year in which the first conviction under section 7 of the Bribery Act was achieved and the Serious Fraud Office entered into its first deferred prosecution agreement, which we commented on in December. These developments perhaps assist the UK to counter Transparency International’s criticism of the lack of implementation and enforcement of anti-corruption legislation in many European countries. While Transparency International commented positively on the statements by David Cameron on the political will to tackle corruption, it is clear that it considers that improvements are demonstrated by strong anti-bribery and corruption legislation with effective prosecutorial bodies to take enforcement action. Progress has been made in these areas over recent years, and it will be interesting to watch whether the forthcoming developments for 2016 foreshadowed in our will have any impact on the UK’s score in the 2016 Index.