Bring on the oranges – what is there to play for in the second half of the UK’s G8 Presidency?

After the photo opportunities, early morning swims and talk of famous blues musicians last week in Lough Erne, the temptation is to think it’s all over for the UK’s Presidency of the G8.

By Graham Gordon, head of public policy at CAFOD

After the photo opportunities, early morning swims and talk of famous blues musicians last week in Lough Erne, the temptation is to think it’s all over for the UK’s Presidency of the G8.

David Cameron staked his political capital on bringing together leaders to reach agreement on issues as far-ranging as trade, tax, nutrition and Syria, and seemed to return home pleased with the progress that was made.

However, holding the G8 presidency isn’t about just one summit, it’s a 12-month long game, and as of July 1 there are six months left until the UK hands over to Russia at the end of 2013.

So, a measured half-time analysis would highlight significant successes around the G8, with tax and transparency firmly on the political agenda and agreements that most wouldn’t have thought impossible when Cameron kicked off.

Transparency is now seen as the norm with steps taken towards a global standard on extractive industry transparency; the UK’s Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies signed up to automatic information exchange on tax; and there were commitments by some G8 countries to registries of ultimate beneficial owners of companies.

That’s a decent hat-trick and has the opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of those that our partners work with overseas.

But while most commentators recognise the UK’s political commitment and achievements, there is unanimity in the fact that this needs to quickly translate into concrete action – we need to see clear results and delivery of commitments by the UK and other G8 governments.

With parliamentary sketch-writers galore hailing George Osborne’s Spending Review as the start of the 2015 election campaign, the prime minister must not lose his international focus; we need his eye on the ball.

So with everything still to play for, what might the second half of the UK’s G8 presidency look like?

An ideal opportunity presents itself at the end of October when the UK, as co-chair of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), hosts its Annual Meeting in London. 2013 is the year of UK presidencies and the OGP is the second major global meeting hosted by the government that will focus on transparency.

However, the OGP is a different kind of game.

Firstly, it is a group of 59 countries who have all signed up to commitments on issues of transparency, corporate accountability, combating corruption and better management of public finances.

Secondly, it doesn’t work by consensus, but by encouraging best practice and incremental improvements.

Thirdly, and perhaps most worryingly, is the fact that G8 countries see the OGP very differently and only four countries (UK, US, Italy and Canada) have signed up. In fact, Russia signed up earlier this year only to pull out a couple of months later. France, instrumental in supporting the UK in the G8, is noticeable by its absence.

So, how will the UK move from trying to get commitment by eight of the largest economies to encouraging steps forward by 59? What mark will the UK want to leave on its G8 Presidency?

Just as David Cameron approached the G8 with the aim of first getting his own house in order and then encouraging international action, he needs to adopt the same strategy for the OGP. There is a long list of actions needing to be done, but some issues would benefit from focused political attention over the next few months.

One is the commitment to consult on whether the UK’s registry of beneficial ownership should be public – this would show that the UK government remains committed to being ‘the most open and transparent government in the world’. A second is to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists, something that has again been shown as necessary through the recent scandals in the House of Lords.

Despite the different ways of working, the UK should be no less ambitious in the role that the OGP can play in raising global standards. One pending agenda item from the G8 is the encouragement for all natural resource rich countries to implement legislation for transparency in company payments.

This should be firmly on the agenda at the OGP and the G20 when it meets in St Petersburg in September. Another opportunity through the OGP is to raise the bar in terms of budget transparency and citizen participation in budget decisions about how their taxes are spent.

Last Thursday the Cabinet Office published the UK’s Draft National Action Plan of its own commitments to greater transparency, participation and accountability under the OGP for the next 2 years.

Developing the plan has been a collaborative process between government and civil society and an interesting experiment in open policy making, with a high level of commitment from Cabinet Office colleagues.

The final plan – due to be agreed before the OGP Annual Meeting in October – will need to show progress that has been made on the commitments made at the G8 summit, with details about the concrete actions and timeline for implementation of the rest.

We look forward to celebrating a few goals before the final whistle blows on 2013.

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