A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) has revealed 'hundreds of gifts' to civil servants, raising potential conflicts of interest.
The NAO found gifts to civil servants:
- Wimbledon tickets
- Tours of the Harry Potter studios
- O2 concert tickets
- FA Cup semi-final tickets
- Invitations to movie premieres
- Tickets to musical operas and recitals
This is just a short list of the many generous gifts and hospitality that senior civil servants have received over the last three years, according to a report by the NAO into the gifts and hospitality culture.
According to the study, some £29,000 worth of items were accepted across 17 departments in 2014/15. Civil servants accepted gifts from bankers during market manipulation enquiries as well as perks from the big four audit and accountancy firms while tax avoidance schemes were being investigated.
The NAO warned that departments needed to have better oversight and avoid conflicts of interest which could undermine the government's reputation.
Top tips for managing corporate hospitality & gifts
1. Use common sense
Some hospitality is perfectly reasonable and legitimate - for example, providing refreshments, a meal or overnight accommodation to interview candidates.
2. Encourage employees to use 3 key criteria to judge
By applying these tests, they can quickly decide what is acceptable:
- Is there a legitimate business purpose,
- is it proportionate (i.e. is it reasonable or would it be seen as unduly lavish?),
- and is it transparent (i.e. declared in your company's Gifts and Hospitality Register)?
Finally, are there any conflicts of interest or would there be a perception of one?
Ensure that there are clearly-defined rules and that you have communicated them to everyone.
4. Have adequate oversight
By ensuring that gifts and hospitality are declared in a Register (such as the number and value of gifts, whether it was accepted or declined, who the donor and beneficiary were, etc).
The register can be as simple as a spreadsheet for small businesses, whereas larger organisations tend to use compliance software tools.
Check this register regularly to ensure that limits and thresholds are being complied with.
5. Encourage transparency
You will find that you can reduce the number of submissions that are declined by making information regarding gifts and hospitality publicly available.
6. Think about reputational risk
Even when the individual or total value of gifts is not high, there may be a perception of wrong-doing or impropriety which can damage your company's reputation. Often large volumes of small gifts can easily go under the radar.
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