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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Black

Is it time to start properly conforming to the Nolan Principles??


On the eve of what is gearing up to be a historic election I was reflecting on something I said in my last blog (Whose Manifesto is the Besto – yes I did call it that despite Lucy Morris telling me I shouldn’t!). I mentioned the Nolan Principles and their place in the lifetime of the next parliament so if you have a minute or two I’d like to explain what I meant by that.


Regardless of whether we see a super majority or not, we will see a new government and many first time MPs. As I set out in my previous blog this current crop of politicians will have their work cut out to restore the public faith and trust in parliament at a time when it is at an all time low. This should be an absolute priority in the lifetime of the next parliament but is unfortunately something which has not seen much airtime during on any of the current campaign trails.


Cast your mind back to when Rishi Sunak took up his role and made his first speech as prime minister outside number 10 on 25 October 2022 (a bit drier than what was to be he last!) he said this:

I will unite our country, not with words, but with action. 

I will work day in and day out to deliver for you.

This government will have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level.

Trust is earned. And I will earn yours.

He’s right – trust is earned. But I think we can safely say that he hasn’t earned ours.


So looking back on those Nolan Principles. What are they and what should they mean for those involved in public service?


The Nolan Principles form the basis of a code of conduct written by Lord Nolan who was the first chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSLP) which was established by John Major in 1994 to advise the PM on ethical standards of public life. The Seven Principles established were.

1.     Selflessness

2.     Integrity

3.     Objectivity

4.     Accountability

5.     Openness

6.     Honesty

7.     Leadership


The remit of the CLSP established that the Nolan Principles should be applied to anyone who works as a public office holder this includes all those who are elected or appointed to public office, nationally and locally, and all people appointed to work in the Civil Service, local government, the police, courts and probation services, non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs), and in the health, education, social and care services.


So basically they apply much wider than just politicians and to many of those who we as built environment professionals interact with on a daily basis.


The CSLP is one of the few things that has endured through subsequent parliaments but I am sure many of you are wondering what good it has done given the list of pretty shady goings on in parliament alone over the last 25 years. Cash for honours, expenses scandle, phone hacking, post office, PPE, party gate and the election betting scandle to name but a few!


As I said it isn’t limited to parliamentarians. Local Government has its fair share of pretty rank behaviour. My beloved Private Eye keeps a regular feature called rotten boroughs which charts the dodgy dealings done in many town halls which should really be hitting the wider press but for some reason isn’t.


So what are the details of the Nolan Principles…….


1.1 Selflessness

Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.

1.2 Integrity

Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.

1.3 Objectivity

Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.

1.4 Accountability

Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.

1.5 Openness

Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.

1.6 Honesty

Holders of public office should be truthful.

1.7 Leadership

Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour and treat others with respect. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.

I wont go through individually and make examples of each in turn but am pretty sure we can all think of times when we have been let down by a failure of one or many of these principles by holders of public office. There simply must be more accountability for decisions made in both plan making and decision taking by those deciding on such matters. I still feel that planning inspectors have a potentially broader role for calling such things out that they surely must be thinking during local plan examinations or planning appeals. It is a shame that the costs application process confines itself to only matters of a procedural nature.

At the very least all MPs should agree to abide by these and if found to have failed them then they should be out. No ifs or buts.


Lets not forget that by the time this year ends there is every chance that Britain will be the filling in an extreme geo-political sandwich of a far right wing France and the States being run by either a lying seditious tyrant or an old man in severe cognitive decline. Many should be looking to Britain as a bastion of proper parliamentarism – let’s make that happen please.  


Don’t be a Boris and forget your voter ID tomorrow / today and I hope you are in the mood for dancing whatever the result in your area.

AB - My own thoughts


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