The UK could join three other countries on a “list of shame” for repeatedly failing to meet the requirements set out by a global anti-corruption body cofounded by the UK.
It has been warned that for the third time in a row it has fallen short of minimum requirements in its action plan to boost transparency, as set out as a condition of membership by the Open Government Partnership (OGP).
The OGP's chief executive Sanjay Pradhan said in a letter to the UK cabinet office that the government was now at risk of joining Malta, Malawi and El Salvador in being designated as “inactive” in the body.
An independent review commissioned by the OGP, which has 77 states as members, identified flaws in four of five commitments made by the government in its latest transparency plan.
A pledge to improve the openness of government procurement processes was described as “promising”, but remaining plans to tackle international corruption and illicit finance, develop open justice, improve transparency in the use of algorithms in decision making, and make health data more accessible, “lacked specific and measurable milestones that would allow detailed analyses of their potential for results”.
It is the third time in recent years that the UK has fallen short of the criteria set out by the OGP, which was established along with seven other countries under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government led by David Cameron in 2011.
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The government was first notified by the OGP in February 2021 that it had been placed under review after the 2019-2021 transparency plan failed to meet the minimum requirement for “public influence and co-creation”.
The OGP has now told the government it may recommend that the UK is added to the “inactive” list at a regional meeting in Rome in October.
The UK Open Government Network (OGN) co-ordinates civil society input into the UK’s national action plan.
“In 2011, the UK government was a founding member of the Open Government Partnership and provided global leadership on how and why governments should be transparent, held to account and involve the public in decision-making,” said OGN chairman Kevin Keith.
“Now, that very same partnership may declare the UK government inactive — it is a shameful fall from grace.”
Susan Hawley, executive director of research organisation Spotlight on Corruption, said the UK’s reputation as a “clean democracy is on the line”.
She added that civil society had been “repeatedly blanked” when offering to help the government develop an action plan for restoring public trust in politics, with crucial recommendations made by the Committee on Standards in Public Life and the independent review of the Greensill lobbying affair yet to be implemented.
“The government needs to take urgent action to show that it takes integrity in public life seriously,” she said.
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Rachel Davies, advocacy director at anti-corruption organisation Transparency International UK, said the UK had made some progress on economic crime, for example.
“But this risks being undermined without concurrent action on standards reform,” she said.
The government has been approached for comment.