STANDARDS at the very body charged with policing the behaviour and performance of Scotland's politicians has hit a "worrying" low, the watchdog says.

Complaints about wrong-doing by MSPs, councillors and members of public bodies go to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland (CESPLS).

The Edinburgh-based regulator investigates complaints that can lead to sanctions for those found to have levelled abuse against others or broken codes of conduct due to other unacceptable behaviours. This includes disqualifying them from public office.

Now a probe into the £1 million-a-year body has found it's so badly-run that public trust is now at risk.

Stephen Boyle, the Auditor General for Scotland, has taken his concerns directly to parliament and says "it is worrying to see so many failings in a single public body".

This includes "an absence of openness and transparency", "a breakdown in key relationships with stakeholders and within its own office" and "no effective scrutiny or challenge which might have flagged up issues earlier".

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MSPs say they'll try to "get to the bottom" of what's gone wrong and Ian Bruce, acting commissioner at CESPLS, has accepted more than 20 recommendations aimed at turning the troubled body around.

Boyle said: "It is disturbing to see so many failings in an organisation, not least because it deals directly with concerns raised by members of the public.

"It is vital that progress underway continues and that the recommendations made by the auditor are implemented.

"The overarching risk is that there will be a loss of public trust in the ability of the Commissioner's Office to properly investigate and consider complaints made against individuals in public life in Scotland."

CESPLS is funded by the non-party Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body and has an office staff of nine.

Bruce, who has had the acting commissioner job since April, has now brought in new management plans and a raft of other aimed at improving performance.

He said: "I and the entire team are dedicated to working in accordance with our new plans and the new values that we have adopted as an organisation. It is incumbent on me and on all of the staff to earn the trust of the public and the many stakeholder organisations that rely on our effective operation as an office. We are absolutely committed to doing so."

Meanwhile, the convener of the Scottish Parliament's Public Audit Committee, Richard Leonard MSP, said: "The catalogue of failings identified in this report are of deep concern.

"Our committee seeks to ensure the people of Scotland have confidence in the organisations they are ultimately funding by shining a light on those failing to live up to their responsibilities.

"It is essential that we get to the bottom of what exactly went wrong with the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland when we consider this report early next year."