‘More stringent rules needed on gifts’ says NAO

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
9 February 2016

A review of gifts and hospitality received by the UK government has found weaknesses in controls.

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) said “accepting modest hospitality is sometimes justified”, but rules “could be more stringent” and some departments “are not meeting transparency requirements”.

The NAO said senior officials accepted gifts and hospitality worth £29,000 during 2014-15, while officials in three case study departments accepted more than £150,000 in the same period.

The report found instances where Cabinet Office controls around proportionality and conflict of interest could have been breached, including tickets to Wimbledon, bottles of champagne and dinners at the Savoy Grill.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “Public officials are sometimes offered gifts and hospitality by external stakeholders which it is reasonable for them to accept. This can, however, present a risk of actual or perceived conflicts of interest, and undermine value for money or affect government’s reputation.

“While most, but not all, cases declared by officials appear on the face of it to be justifiable in the normal course of business, we found some weaknesses in the oversight and control of gifts and hospitality. This needs to be addressed by the Cabinet Office and departments.”

The five most frequent providers of gifts and hospitality to senior officials between April 2012 and March 2015 were the City of London Corporation, PwC, the CBI, Deloitte and BAE Systems.

The report said BAE Systems, Deloitte and PwC were among the most frequent providers while also being major suppliers, while the British Bankers’ Association provided largesse “at the same time some of its members were being investigated in the UK for market manipulations”.

The NAO said Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) accepted gifts and hospitality worth £100,000 in 2014-15, the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) £35,000 and HMRC £19,000.

The report said it found cases where hospitality “might not be seen as proportional”, including nine DE&S officials accepting more than 20 instances of hospitality from BAE Systems between April 2012 and March 2015 and BIS officials accepting hospitality from Airbus Group more than 120 times over the same period.

The NAO also referred to suppliers paying for wine at a Skills Funding Agency Christmas lunch for two years, dinners at restaurants such as Quirinale, the Savoy Grill and The Athenaeum, and tablet computers being handed to conference delegates.

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