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Sports tickets and film premieres among perks for public officials, records show

Published 09/02/2016

Public officials were offered tickets to lavish sporting evens such as the Olympics opening ceremony
Public officials were offered tickets to lavish sporting evens such as the Olympics opening ceremony

Wimbledon tickets, iPads and bottles of Champagne are among the thousands of gifts public officials have been showered with by businesses and institutions, an investigation by the spending watchdog has found.

Civil servants have been treated to dinners at some of London's swankiest restaurants, sent hampers from Fortnum & Mason and secured invitations to private viewings of art exhibitions and movie premieres.

One official was sent a painting worth £300, while others were given tickets to FA Cup semi-finals and tours of the Harry Potter film studios, according to the report by the National Audit Office (NAO).

Perks have also been extended to family members, the inquiry found, with the husbands, wives and children of Whitehall's most powerful mandarins given tickets to events like the Olympics opening ceremony, RHS Chelsea Flower Show, music recitals and operas on 35 occasions.

Major Government contractors PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), Deloitte and BAE Systems were all in the top five organisations providing hospitality to mandarins.

The British Bankers' Association also frequently wined and dined top officials at the same time as some of its members were being investigated for market manipulations, the NAO highlighted.

The watchdog said it had "concerns" about some of the gifts that had been accepted and warned of the "substantial" risk to the Government's reputation that some posed.

It found some "weaknesses" in the way hospitality is monitored and controlled and called for the rules to be toughened up.

NAO head Amyas Morse 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 the 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."

Gifts and hospitality are allowed under civil service rules but acceptance must be in the interests of the Government, proportional and not cause a conflict of interest.

Each department sets its own policies based on wider guidance but some "fell short of good practice", the report found.

Whitehall's top officials must release details about extras they have received but information about lower-ranking civil servants is held on undisclosed departmental registers.

Senior civil servants across 17 departments accepted around £29,000 of gifts and hospitality in 2014/15, according to NAO estimates.

The City of London Corporation was the organisation that provided the most perks between April 2012 and March 2015, with records showing those on the highest rungs in Whitehall accepted hospitality on 73 occasions.

PwC followed on 67, with the Confederation of British Industry on 50, Deloitte on 46 and BAE Systems on 42.

The NAO drilled down into the records of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) trading unit of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and found officials at all levels accepted around £150,000 of perks during 2014/15.

It found officials had been treated to dinners at high-end central London restaurants such as Quirinale and Savoy Grill as well as Pall Mall club The Athenaeum.

Airbus Group topped the list of hospitality providers at BIS with 47 occasions recorded. At HMRC, the French government was the most f requent provider while the prime contractor for its Aspire contract, Capgemini, was next.

An MoD spokesman said: " The MoD is committed to upholding both the civil service code and Queen's regulations on acceptance of gifts and hospitality. All instances of hospitality, whether accepted or declined, are recorded and a 2015 Corporate Standards Review has improved our already robust procedures."

An HMRC spokesman said: "We are scrupulous in ensuring that any gifts and hospitality received by HMRC officials are proportionate, appropriate and within Civil Service guidelines. Most hospitality consists of tea and coffee and we don't think it makes sense to spend valuable staff time logging and accounting for such routine hospitality. Anything more significant is logged, accounted for and subject to internal audit."

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