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Integrity management and the public service ethos in the UK: patchwork quilt or threadbare blanket?

By Paul M. Heywood


This paper focuses on the nature of integrity management in contemporary UK public life. Despite traditionally high standards of integrity in the public service, it has recently been argued that the UK’s National Integrity System resembles a patchwork quilt of poorly defined institutional roles, questionable independence, and contested notions of how best to disseminate and uphold ethical practice. The paper traces how a relatively enduring characteristic known as the British public service ethos (PSE), which places emphasis on informal codes of conduct and moral integrity, has evolved within broader systemic changes to the style of public service delivery. It is argued that pressures to decentralise public service delivery sit in tension with, and feed into, piecemeal attempts to centralise and codify integrity management. This dynamic is presented in terms of the tension between a compliance-based and a values-based approach to integrity management.\ud \ud The paper is structured in three parts. The first part traces the evolution of the British public service ethos, tracing continuities and changes, in order to situate integrity management in both its institutional and structural context. The second part engages with recent academic debates and recommendations from key bodies such as the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) and the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC). It is shown how recommendations to create independent statutory bodies of ethical oversight have not been fully implemented. The third part seeks to place the UK experience within the broader literature surrounding National Integrity Systems and New Public Management. In doing so the paper reflects on ways we can understand the concept and application of integrity management within and beyond the UK experience

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