Transparency International published a research report on 15 June 2011 on the prevalence of corruption in the UK.

In summary, the research suggests that corruption is a greater problem in the UK than is currently recognised. In particular, the report shows that organised crime affects and corrupts various sectors in the UK. The UK Border Agency, police and prison service have been targeted by organised criminals and social housing is exploited by criminals to facilitate drug trafficking and prostitution. More importantly, the report highlights particular concerns about corruption as regards prisons, political parties, parliament and sport.

Clearly more action is needed by the Government to understand and combat corruption in addition to implementing the Bribery Act.

This report was based on three components: a National Opinion Survey, an assessment of 23 key sectors in the UK and a report on the robustness of the UK’s institutional defences against corruption (carried out by independent academics of the University of Teesside). It considered corruption through four angles:

  1. Is corruption a problem in the UK?
  2. If it is, how prevalent is it?
  3. Where and how does it manifest itself?
  4. Does the UK have an effective institutional framework to tackle corruption?

Although the UK is institutionally robust and bribery uncommon, other forms of corruption are a problem in some sectors and institutions. The report highlights that there is a growing threat of corruption, due to the growth of organised crime.

The institutions considered in light of the risk of corruption are categorised as follows:

  1. Institutions perceived to be involved in corrupt activities (for example,  political parties)
  2. Institutions involved in sectors where corruption is highly prevalent (for example,  prisons and sport)
  3. Institutions at high risk of corruption (for example, social housing)
  4. Institutions with a lower risk of corruption (for example, media)
  5. Institutions with robust defences (for example, the Judiciary).

Clearly the fact that political parties are perceived to be involved in corrupt activities is extremely worrying in a modern democracy.

Transparency International makes six recommendations to remedy this situation concerning the following:

1)      Awareness

It encourages politicians, business and institutions throughout the UK to understand that corruption is a problem in key sectors in the UK. It recommends government departments and bodies to put in place adequate procedures that are envisaged for the private sector under the Bribery Act. I understand that this must include the SFO itself by definition.

2)       Effectiveness of law enforcement

It encourages the Government to give a consistent message of zero tolerance for corruption in all its departments and dealings. 

3)      Increasing danger from organised crime:

Given that organised crime and corruption are intertwined, stronger cooperation between various agencies in charge of tackling organised crime in the UK should be developed.

4)      Danger in dismantling of anti-corruption defences:

Transparency International recommends to put on hold the plans to abolish the SFO, as it sends the wrong message.  These plans have been put on hold for at least one year.

5)      Urgent need for co-ordination:

A high level policy response is needed to tackle corruption effectively. It recommends launching a public consultation on whether the UK should establish an agency dedicated solely to UK and overseas corruption.  For example, in Sweden, The National Anti-Corruption Unit at the Swedish Prosecution handles all criminal cases in Sweden regarding bribery.

6)      Need for data and further research:

It recommends making data analysis on corruption publicly available and suggests that an analysis on the impact of the Bribery Act on the City should be prepared.

This report shows that a real change of culture is required at top level and from within the government to tackle corruption at various levels and to maintain the confidence of UK citizens in their institutions. Corruption is not just about large companies winning lucrative foreign contracts. It concerns society and public institutions at all levels and the effort to stamp it out needs to be dealt with institutionally and “culturally”.