Professor Michael Macaulay
Professor Michael Macaulay enjoys challenging people’s stereotypical view of a senior academic.
‘There’s something about being from Teesside that I think gives me more credibility. When I speak at conferences people are surprised at how down to earth I am. Not only do I talk normally – I’m very practical,’ – Professor Michael Macaulay
But Professor Macaulay’s light hearted manner belies the serious nature of his research – which includes proving that organised crime is more interlinked with public bodies than has previously been believed.
Professor Michael Macaulay is currently he is working on two projects. The first is for Transparency International, the world’s leading non-governmental anti-corruption organisation.
‘I am updating the National Integrity System (NIS) study which examines institutional arrangements to combat corruption. So this is within the police, parliament, the ombudsman, for example.
‘It’s looking at the codes of conducts, procedures and legislation to see how effective they are. It means interviewing high profile people such as the Parliamentary Commissioner, Director of the Serious Fraud Office and Local Government Ombudsman for England and Wales.’
In an extension of that project Professor Macaulay, 38, is looking at the areas not covered by the NIS. ‘I’m researching corruption in prisons, the police, the legal profession, construction profession, sport and border agencies and the role of organised crime in all of this – it’s a huge piece of work.’
His preliminary findings are alarming: ‘Organised crime within prisons, the police, border agencies and social housing is more interlinked than we suspected. It’s at a critical point now and it needs to be addressed.
‘In the government’s national security strategy, organised crime only comes in the second tier – the first tier is terrorism. But more people die through the effects of organised crime than terrorism.’
the MPs’ expenses scandal
Corruption is more subtle in western countries than developing ones – Professor Macaulay points to the MPs’ expenses scandal as a prime example. ‘Many of those MPs involved didn’t think they were doing anything wrong, they were simply following the system, what everyone else was doing. What is wrong is the system itself. And when that was revealed to the public, it is seen as a disgrace.
‘It’s like corporate hospitality – is that a bribe? What is the difference between accepting centre court tickets at Wimbledon in this country or a bribe in a developing nation?
In a second project Professor Macaulay is looking at the government’s new localisation bill which abolishes the standards and ethics committees in local government – part of the coalition’s bid to get rid of quangos.
‘Every local authority has a standards committee chaired by an independent volunteer with three or four volunteers on it alongside elected members. This is localism in action – a success story.’
Michael believes it will be a mistake to abolish them and contradicts the government’s idea of a ‘big society’. ‘There has been few genuine corruption cases in local government in the last ten years, unlike in the 1980s and 90s, so it may be seen as saving money – but who will people complain to if they don’t exist?’
Teesside University leading the agenda
This is an area in which Professor Macaulay believes Teesside University can lead the agenda. ‘The audit commission is going, the serious organised crime unit and the gambling commission which also deals with sporting integrity – it’s a big worry. And all this at a time when public trust is at an all time low.
‘It may be allegations of corruption will have to be dealt with by the police and even if they are vexatious allegations which are not upheld there is still resulting publicity which is damaging.’
Michael believes all this makes for particularly interesting times especially when you add to it the new Bribery Act of 2010 (in force April 2011). ‘This gets rid of the old legislation around corruption and makes organisations responsible rather than individuals.
‘There is a big role to play in explaining all the changes and transition arrangements and here at Teesside we have good connections to be able to do that. We can advise, help with new governance arrangements and perform ethical audits to ensure standards don’t slip. Research here has very practical uses.
‘The problems with ethics and standards will never go away in local government. It has been my work for the last decade and I won’t give that up. I don’t want to see things take a step backwards. Standards committees have helped enable much better working practices between officers and elected members.’
Michael has been married to Kathleen for seven years. They live in Redcar with their two sons Bruce, five, and Heath 18 months. He came to Teesside University as a research assistant in 2001. In 2006 he gained a permanent position as a senior lecturer and was made a professor in 2010.
When I speak at a conference people are surprised at how down to earth I am. Not only do I talk normally – I’m very practical