Standards in Public Life

Selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, leadership – these are words not often used when talking about the activities of public sector officials. Research by David Hine, Gillian Peele and Mark Philp examines the evolution of UK public ethics and regulatory institutions in Western Europe from the early 1990s to the present.

This body of work has helped to clarify the meaning of the ethical principles used to guide conduct in the public sector, shaped the institutional strategies of regulators, and influenced international debate on standards in public life.

Mark Philp's work shows that there can be a dispartity between public understanding of the 'seven principles of public life' and their interpretation by those in public office. This definitional ambiguity gives rise to significant risks, insofar as disparate expectations and interpretations could threaten the legitimacy of the principles themselves and of the institutions they were designed to regulate (see the 2009 article, 'Delimiting Democratic Accountability').

Hine and Philp's comparative research on the design of regulatory institutions highlights the distinctiveness of the UK, which, in contrast to the public law tradition of continental Europe, is marked by a highly self-regulatory approach rooted in soft law principles. This difference creates particular difficulties for the UK, including the complexity of managing conflicts of interest and the vulnerability of regulators to political challenges.

The research project was developed in close association with regulatory bodies, particularly the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) - the governmental body tasked with examining concerns about standards of conduct among public office holders. Dr. Philp has chaired the CSPL Research Advisory Board since 2008, and both Dr. Hine and Professor Peele were cited in the final report of a Cabinet Office Review of the CSPL in 2012.

Dr. Hine and Professor Peele also worked with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), established in 2009 in the wake of the parliamentary expenses scandal, to help foster a greater understanding of the wider context of public ethics. (See Keeping it Clean for a more detailed overview of the academics' work with the Advisory Board of the Committee on Standards in Public Life and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority).

The Director of the Institute for Government described the research project's collaborative orientation as 'a model of the interaction and influence of political scientists with practitioners in making an impact on important public policy issues'.


Further Reading:

David Hine on the Trouble With Standards in Public Life

Written Evidence submitted by David Hine and Gillian Peele the UK Parliament's Public Administration Select Committee

Gillian Peele and Robert Kaye, Regulating Conflict of Interest: Securing Accountability in the Modern State

This Impact Case Study was submitted to the Research Excellence Framework (REF2014)




Gillian Peele
David Hine
Mark Philp