Sue Hawley, policy director of NGO Corruption Watch, examines the government’s approach to tackling economic crime and argues that its reliance on ‘public-private partnerships’ as regulators raises serious conflicts of interest and the threat of regulatory capture
When UK Prime Minister Theresa May came to power, she ditched her predecessor David Cameron’s language of fighting corruption in favour of a broader economic crime agenda. May’s government has consistently stated that achieving progress on economic crime is a real priority, and fortunately, anti-corruption has remained a key plank of that agenda (despite the all-consuming maelstrom of Brexit). But the direction that the government is taking on economic crime – by creating public-private partnerships to tackle it – is a cause for real concern and demands urgent scrutiny.
The clearest expression of the government’s economic crime agenda has been the creation of a new national authority, the National Economic Crime Centre (NECC), in November 2018, and an Economic Crime Strategy Board (ECSB) in January 2019. The NECC is an operational body whose goal is to “deliver a step-change in the UK’s response to serious and organised economic crime,” while the ECSB is a task force that is supposed to “set priorities, direct resources, and scrutinise performance against the economic crime threat.” Both initiatives have been created as a so-called public-private partnerships – a voluntary regulatory initiative between the state and the private sector – in what the government calls “the whole system” approach, yet this appears to be based on astonishingly little analysis of whether such partnerships are effective and what they are designed to achieve.