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The Government is reviewing the Bribery Act after business leaders claimed it was making it difficult for British firms to export goods.
The Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, is inviting companies to comment on whether the tough anti-corruption measures are “a problem”.
Critics fear it is a way of weakening the law at a time when the Government should be clamping down on existing loopholes, and supporters of the Act say they are surprised by the move.
Letters sent by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) invite industry leaders to comment on whether the Act has had an impact on their attempts to export. They also ask if guidance issued to help business people avoid problems under the Act is useful and for suggestions to clarify the information. BIS officials said the guidance that accompanies the Act, rather than the law itself, was the main focus.
The Coalition boasted it was the world’s “toughest” anti-corruption law. But the Confederation of British Industry led fierce criticism of the Bill and argued it would restrict economic growth.
Opponents continued to lobby against aspects of it after it passed into law in 2011. They claim UK law goes “above and beyond international standards” and puts British business at a disadvantage against their competitors.
But the anti-corruption campaigner Transparency International said that corporate lobbying appeared to be the basis for the review rather than evidence. It said that 89 per cent of companies surveyed in the Government’s own research, released earlier this month, reported that the Act had no impact on their ability to export. The activists point out that no one has yet been prosecuted for facilitation payments in the UK and that there is a low risk of prosecution.
But Neil Carberry, CBI director for employment and skills, welcomed the review.
“Bribery is morally and legally wrong and businesses have been supportive of the principles of the Act. With the majority of other countries’ rules more flexible than the UK’s, some businesses are being put at a competitive disadvantage when operating in global markets,” he said.
“That’s why we are pleased that the Government has decided to review the impact of the Act, which we’ve long been calling for. It should focus on how to tackle corruption while protecting the UK’s competitiveness.”