The Seven Principles of Public Life.

For over 25 years the Nolan Report has provided the underlying ethical basis for public life in the United Kingdom.

In theory it is hard to disagree with the Nolan Principles of:

and the pandemic has demonstrated the overwhelming dedication of so many to a public service ethos, often under intense stress.

I have written about the importance of ethical leadership many times before because there are still far too many holding powerful positions who behave as though rules and social norms only apply to others and not to them. It is of course naïve to think of a halcyon, scandal-free age of British politics and British business, but the pattern of ignoring standards of openness and subverting governance is often the forerunner to corruption to the benefit of those who hold the power.

There is undoubtedly a clear overlap between the principles we expect in public life and those in business because the seventh of the Principles is the important of them all – leadership.

Leaders set the tone and this forms the culture. The tone must come from the top. We always advise that a company's senior leadership should place overt importance on ethical values, they should demonstrate a visible commitment to high standards, and they should be willing to be held accountable for standards within their organisation.

The Nolan principles offer one such checklist of fundamentals to sense-check a Board’s collective decision-making process and approach. Boards are vital to good decision-making. Ethical frameworks, like the Nolan principles, can help boards fulfil their purpose in a way that adds value - especially when all else seems uncertain.

Alastair Campbell said that we live in a ‘post‐shame’ world. I worry that we live in a ‘post-Nolan’ era.

We are entering a new age. Business can be the source of inspirational leadership and an engine of positive progress – but only if it is built on solid ethical foundations.

Lorri Lowe
Partner, UK

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