Let’s be inspired


The incoming UK government may have learnt from last year’s scandal about MP expenses. The more optimistic version would be that it simply trusts its citizens.

If the promises by David Cameron & Co made a few days ago are carried out, the British government may well take the lead in Europe for a while: Publishing expenses, gifts and meetings, publishing name, position and income of the 172 officials with the highest salaries and preventing lobby-abuse of inside knowledge of politicians with its new ministerial code.
The fact, that the spell is already broken about the highest salaries and the public spending database COIN, gives an optimistic start, so let’s all keep an eye on this.

Also in the US the government trusts its citizens to judge for themselves. The US provides to its citizens the right to know the figures of who pays their politicians – be that in campaign donations or via lobbyists.

Let the public judge themselves, whether BP means British Petroleum or Big Problem – and how BP is related to politicians and administration. Our readers are, after all, educated and thinking people.

Let’s be inspired, let’s build upon the transparency-push of Siim Kallas and others in the Barroso I Commission and take the next step. Below a rough comparison between some EU transparency rules, some of the new UK rules and some US rules.

United Kingdom (and US) EU
The Ministerial Code published by the Prime Minister sets out the standards of conduct expected of Ministers. In particular, it bars former Ministers from lobbying Government for two years; tightens controls on government cars and numbers of special advisers; and requires the regular publication of Ministerial meetings, hospitality, gifts and travel.  http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/newsroom/news_releases/2010/100521-ministerial-code.aspx This code would be obvious for inspiration to lift the achievements of the European Commission’s Transparency Inititiative to the next level http://ec.europa.eu/transparency/
The list of Cabinet Committees – shows the membership of each committee and shows a significant reduction in the total number of Committees. It includes a Coalition Committee to ensure the smooth working of the Coalition and resolve any disputes. Each Committee has a Chair from one Party and a Deputy Chair from the other Party who can remit an issue to the Coalition Committee. List of expert groups published http://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regexpert/index.cfm. List of comitology committees published
Former Ministers will be barred from lobbying Government for two years. Ministers’ decisions should not be influenced by the hope or expectation of future employment with a particular firm or organisation. Space for inspiration: Given the job-choices by the previous EU Commission, inspiration on this subject may be worthwhile for the EU: Verheugen http://euobserver.com/9/29964, McCreevy http://euobserver.com/18/30010, critical article by Corporate Europe Observatory http://www.corporateeurope.org/lobbycracy/content/2010/04/ec-defends-approval-revolving-doors-case
Gifts received and given by Ministers above a certain value will be published on a quarterly basis. Hospitality received by Ministers will be published on a quarterly basis. Ministers’ meetings with external organisations will also be published quarterly. All Ministers’ travel overseas will be published. Previously, Ministers were only required to publish hospitality valued at over £140. Overseas travel was previously only published annually and for travel costing more than £500 per trip. Space for inspiration: Gifts received in Barroso I Commission – stating neither donor nor valuehttp://ec.europa.eu/commission_barroso/gifts/gifts_fr.pdf. Hospitality received by Commissioners is not stated on the transparency site http://ec.europa.eu/transparency/. Ministers meetings with external organisations are accessible through access to documents requests, however a request about one subject and for the relevant commissioners was answered only rudimentary and only with half a years delay. Commissioners travel expenses can be accessed through FOI as was done by Dutch TV RTL http://blogs.euobserver.com/alfter/2010/02/11/how-dear-was-the-past-commission/
The number of special advisers will be reduced. Let’s be inspired
Tighter controls on the use of official cars – including the code stating that whenever practicable Ministers should use public transport. At present there are in the region of 80 cars allocated to ministers at a cost of £10 million for 09/10. Let’s be inspired
Ministers who occupy an official residence, including the Prime Minister, will not be able to get the Accommodation Allowance that MPs can claim from IPSA.
List of high earners  http://download.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/transparency/high-earners-pay.csv Let’s be inspired
All public spendings in the COINS database, faciliated by the Guardian website http://coins.guardian.co.uk/coins-explorer/search Direct spendings http://ec.europa.eu/beneficiaries/fts/index_en.htm, farmsubsidy spendings http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/funding/index_en.htm, European Social Funds http://ec.europa.eu/employment_social/esf/discover/article_7093_en.htm
US Lobbyists are obliged to register and submit regular reports including financial information, that are accessible and searchble for the public. For example http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/legislative/g_three_sections_with_teasers/lobbyingdisc.htm Let’s be inspired: The EU has a volontary register with widely varying contributions from interest organisations, financial information (if submitted) is not comparable https://webgate.ec.europa.eu/transparency/regrin/consultation/search.do?locale=en#en