Archive for May, 2008

Whitehall’s Capability Reviews

At last, a fairly open and quite critical review of the competence of Whitehall.  I have commented before on the blind spot that some have over civil service standards (e.g.  A recent series of Capability Reviews make for some interesting reading and begint to open up a discussion about standards in Whitehall (see  Perhaps more important is the fact that we might also begin to see evidence of efforts to change and improve over time.  Together with recent Public Administration Select Committee discussions about skills for government, it begins to feel like some light is being shed on the world of the policy makers.  For too long, we have been expected to accept that policy officials were an elite and that they deserved respect as of right.  But evidence suggests that there are problems of integrity, competence and basic skills.  It will be interesting to observe the reviews develop.

BAE Systems and ethics

A committee, chaired by Lord Woolf the former Lord Chief Justice, has published a report making recommendations on ethical business practices in BAE Systems.  While not concerned with the investigation of any alleged wrongdoing, it is an interesting document.  The conclusions describe a series of systems and processes that should be in place to raise ethical standards, it talks of the role in this of Internal Audit (the audit exoplosion is alive and well and now encompasses ethics) and of ethical codes.  But what does it mean?

At the heart of the dilemma is one question: what does it mean to be ethical in the arms trade?  Leaving aside whether the trade can ever be ethical, what is ethical practice in the trade?  The report recommends the development, publication and implementation of a ‘global code of erhical business conduct’.  It seems to me that the report overlooks the major controversies underpinning questions of business ethics.  And how does one codify it?  And what of implementation?  What of organisational culture?

These are issues common to many sectors and very familiar in the public sector in the UK.  Nearly forty years on from the Royal Commission on Standards in Public Life and the scandals of the 1970s, we are still confronting problems in the UK despite efforts to codify and audit etc.  For a once senior judicial figure to gloss over the problems and practicalities of what he proposes is worrying.

The report is available from: