With the implementation of the Bribery Act only two weeks away, absolutely the last thing that should have been of concern was the break up of the lead anti-corruption investigator and prosecutor, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
Although the SFO has won a reprieve – after the Home Secretary, Theresa May, backed down on plans to split the SFO and roll it into the new National Crime Agency - this sends completely the wrong message just before the Bribery Act goes live.
Either the Government is committed to tackling bribery and corruption or it is not. Let’s hope it is the former; otherwise the UK will slip further down the league table of least corrupt countries in which to do business (the UK currently lies 20th in the Transparency International corruption perceptions index but it had previously been 17th and before that 16th).
The UK is seen internationally as one of the centres of excellence for financial services, in particular insurance. The Lloyd’s of London mark is second to none but a ranking of 20th does not assist with the UK’s offering as such a centre.
The SFO will remain a proactive and robust investigator and prosecutor of corruption and the new Bribery Act will add to its tool kit of enforcement legislation. UK business should not consider recent media speculation about the break up of the SFO as a weakening in this most important of corporate criminal legislation. The message remains, keep up your guard.