Corrupt? Yes, but only a little

It’s a fact, Britons are the least corrupt in Europe

By Michelle Perry | Published 15:47, 03 February 14

Good news came from Europe today. This may, for many, appear an oxymoron, especially since the news – although partially good for Britain – was in fact about widespread corruption across Europe.

According to a report by the European Commission (the first of its kind on this topic), corruption is pervasive across Europe. Eurosceptics will undoubtedly be jumping for glee at the finding using it as yet further evidence to move away from the nasty clutches of Europe.

And the figure is indeed shocking. Corruption is estimated to cost the EU economy around 120 billion euros (£99bn) a year with four in 10 companies considering corruption to be an issue for doing business, according to the report.

This figure is even more shocking when you consider that the cost to the EU economy is equivalent to the bloc’s annual budget. A whopping 75 percent of Europeans polled for the study said that corruption was widespread, and more than half said the level had risen.

However in the UK, just 15 percent of companies consider corruption to be a problem when doing business, a relatively low score when compared with other EU countries.

The result is refreshing not least because Britain normally comes out top in all the least favourable comparison charts within the EU – teenage pregnancies, obesity, underage drinking (you get the picture).

But this time we bagged the highest accolade: only five Britons out of 1,115 – less than 1 percent – said they had been expected to pay a bribe. It was “the best result in all Europe”, the report said.

Interestingly however, the results showed that 64 percent of UK respondents think corruption is widespread (the EU average is 74 percent). One of the few cases where the perception is worse than the reality.

The positive result for the UK may have something to do with Britain passing some of the toughest anti-bribery laws in the world. Indeed the EC report cites the UK Bribery Act 2010 (which came into force in July 2011), labelling it ‘a sound legislative framework to tackle domestic and foreign bribery’.

Despite progress in the UK however there were some areas where we didn’t fare so brilliantly – tax fraud, non-payment of VAT and the offering of free gifts or trips in exchange of services. Maybe these remain issues that Britons don’t consider as wrongdoing.

Of the report’s findings, Elizabeth Higgs, ICAEW integrity and law Manager, says: “Corruption is a massive issue globally. However, in the UK, it is considered a much lesser problem for doing business than other challenges, such as tax rates, red tape and accessing finance.”

Higgs adds that “leadership from the top, whistleblower protection and transparency are all critical factors”, in the fight to stamp out corruption.

I say that until the wider public and business leaders see corruption eradicated from public office then few will take the lead. People need a level to which to aspire.

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