Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Have the NAO got it wrong on gifts & hospitality?

I read the National Audit Office report on the 'Investigation into the acceptance of gifts and hospitality' with interest but have to say I am mystified. While the EU and United Nations are against the receiving of gifts within a procurement context, the NAO appear to have come to a view that:
While barring UK officials from accepting gifts and hospitality is an option, it would run the risk of hampering the legitimate activities of the departments and officials, including engaging with stakeholders.
How could the refusal of a gift hamper (excuse the pun) business? I am also mystified at the lack of explicit recommendations.

Hospitality and gifts are only targeted at those who are likely to have influence over a decision, and there should be no 'ifs' or 'buts', they are offered to distort decision-making. Of course, the NAO have referred to avoiding perceived conflicts of interest - sorry perception of hampering business is unavoidable when gifts and hospitality are received in the procurement process.

Let's also remember that any gift or hospitality offered is not free from cost - that cost has to be recouped from somewhere and in all probability is an overhead cost included in all public sector contracts.

So what were the examples of gifts received:
These included: tickets to professional sports and cultural events, sometimes accompanied by a spouse and/or children; bottles of champagne; wine for a team’s Christmas lunch; iPads; Fortnum & Mason hamper, a painting valued at £300.
That list is of course constrained by the fact that the systems for recording gifts are not robust and not adhered to anyway.

I didn't pick up anything which specifically addressed staff involved in procurement, but let's remember that if they are MCIPS/FCIPS the CIPS Code of Conduct applies.

Regardless, I think the NAO have missed a mark on this one, a robust approach to the acceptance of gifts and hospitality is not just about the perception of conflicts of interest, it is about protecting staff from potential allegations of bribery and corruption - it should not only be a risk management issue but a health and safety issue too.

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