23 November 2011

Some flowers would be nice

On the Famous Five Barnet Bloggers website is the list of all gifts and hospitality for the council tax year ended 31 March 2011. Now Mr Mustard has eaten his fair share of corporate lunches in the past ( his co-Director used to say his job description was to eat and drink for the company! ) and still has the odd one now and then. The lunches ( usually dinners but lets not be picky ) are with existing clients and are meant to be a fun night out for everyone and work is barely talked about. It's a chance for each party to get to know the other side a bit better in order to make working together more pleasant. So, don't go getting the idea that Mr Mustard is a boring old fart who is against having a good time and objects to all gifts & hospitality, because he doesn't.

What Mr Mustard does expect to see though is openness & transparency in the record of who was entertained by whom. Barnet Council won't release details of lower paid employees who have been entertained, even ones earning £50,000. That is wrong as if you are important enough to enjoy a £50 dinner then it shouldn't only be the supplier who knows who you are. Many gifts were from people grateful about what the council did and we certainly don't need to know who gave a box of chocolates to a helpful employee who went the extra mile; although they should be entered in the Employee of the Month awards ( is there such a thing? ).

Every department keeps a record in accordance with the code of conduct:

In the course of our work you may occasionally be offered gifts or hospitality by contractors, consultants, clients or other members of the public. In some instances, accepting such gifts could place you in a serious predicament, open to allegations of corruption, and to disciplinary proceedings. In order for you to know what is acceptable, and to protect you from such allegations, the Council has adopted the following policy:

It is essential that all employees are open, and not secretive in their relationships with outside agencies.

All gifts and hospitality must be recorded in writing, immediately on receipt, in a book or register kept for this purpose within the Directorate / section / establishment.

Minor gifts, e.g. calendars, diaries, stationery items, need not be recorded.

Where small gifts such as a bottle of wine, food, confectionery, etc are offered, these can be accepted, provided they are recorded as above, and not kept for personal use, but shared with colleagues or residents/users (e.g. of a social services' establishment).

Gifts of higher value, e.g. cases of spirits, clothes, holiday discounts, electrical equipment, must not be accepted and, if received, should be returned to the sender.

Cash must on no account be accepted.
Employees must not, on a personal basis, take advantage of discounts which have been negotiated by the Council with its suppliers for the purchase of goods, materials or services, unless the discount has been negotiated specifically as a benefit available to all employees.

Hospitality in the form of drinks and meals can be accepted when provided in the course of normal business - e.g. lunch at a contractor's expense during a business meeting or function, provided that they are recorded in writing as above. Employees must be aware of the need to take care, when alcohol is offered, to ensure that their ability to take decisions and to drive vehicles is not impaired.
Invitations to prestige sporting events, such as Wimbledon, and other occasions such as theatre, opera, or weekend breaks must not be accepted.

No gifts or hospitality are to be accepted from contractors who are submitting a tender during a tendering period.

Gifts and hospitality, when accepted, should be acknowledged by a letter of thanks to be placed on file.

Records may be inspected by Members, and will be subject to check by Internal Audit.

Employees providing personal care, such as Care Workers, Home Helps and Wardens of sheltered housing accommodation can sometimes be offered jewellery, money or other gifts, or bequests of substantial value by clients.

When dealing with elderly or confused clients, employees - if they accept such gifts - are placing themselves in a particularly vulnerable position.

Any offers of such gifts or bequests from clients, or other members of the public, must be reported immediately in writing to the Chief Officer (or an officer nominated to act on his/her behalf) for instruction.

There are certain groups of employees (e.g., Enforcement Officers, Purchasing Officers) for whom it would be inappropriate to receive any gifts or hospitality in view of the nature of their work. Any such employees will be notified in writing by the Director of the rules which apply.

Failure to adhere to the above will be regarded as gross misconduct and could lead to dismissal. 

One would think that as the register is required to be kept under the Code of Conduct it would be rapidly supplied if requested under Freedom of Legislation. Well, you would be wrong.

Mr Mustard made the request on 20 June 2011.

A first reply was received on 18 July ( possibly deliberately held up to the 20 day deadline )

Mr Mustard rather expected it to name the giver and it didn't so he asked for that information on 24 July.

On 16 November Mr Mustard finally received a response ( with an apology for lateness ) but the name of any recipient below the level of Head of Service / AD was refused. Mr Mustard has asked for the column of value to be properly completed but it can't be done now. It is mostly blank which is completely unacceptable. Was the bottle of wine worth £5 or £1,000? we are entitled to know.

Now Mr Mustard is going to analyse the gifts and hospitality for you directorate by directorate. First, alphabetically, "Adults" as it was described by which I think it means Adult Social Services.

A completely staggering 2 gifts have been declared for Adults.

A Food Hamper ( value not listed ) on 7 December 2010 from Pashun Outreach Services Ltd. Who received the hamper is not shown so it was presumably given to someone below Head of Service level and the contents should have been shared out as per the code of conduct. If you know what happened to the hamper please send Mr Mustard an email ( in confidence of course ).

The second gift was a box of Terry's All Gold. Giver not noted so probably a service user and recipient not noted but not relevant as in most offices these get put near the kettle and scoffed by everyone.

Now what is even more interesting is who didn't get any gifts and who didn't give any.

Who held the top 4 posts at Xmas 2010 ( the main season for gifts and hospitality )  and what did they receive?

Lovely dahlias at Aylett Nursery
Kate Kennally
Acting Assistant Director - Adult Social Services
Received? : nothing, not even a bunch of flowers.

Alison Kemp
Associate Assistant Director - Partnerships & Planning
Received? : nothing, not even a bunch of flowers.

Glynnis Joffe
Acting Deputy Director - Adult Social services
Received? : nothing, not even a bunch of flowers.

Matthew Kendal 
Assistant Director - Transformation and Resources
Received? : nothing, not even a bunch of flowers.

So to summarize: no flowers, no bottles of wine or spirits, no posh dinners, no tickets to any event, no boxes of chocolates, no hampers, no Amazon vouchers, no free trips to the Sandbanks Hotel, no holidays in Morphou, no anything whatsoever. Now this is possible but to Mr Mustard's mind it isn't likely, unless an edict went out from the top that no-one was to accept anything whatsoever. Who knows? you do. I am sure you will let me know if any of these above highly paid officers were seen in restaurants tucking into Chateaubriand and a good claret and not reaching for their credit cards at the end of the meal with a supplier or potential supplier or seen loading boxes of wine and hampers into the boot of their car.

Now as to suppliers, the following are some of the ones who raked in the most money in the year.

Eversheds, Solicitors £160,000
Hays ( staff supply ) £788,000
Morgan Hunt Public Sector £25,000
Sodexho Healthcare £452,000
Whitehall Consultants (UK) Ltd £108,000

and none of those gave any declarable gift or hospitality to anyone in Adult Social Services if the registers are to be believed.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


  1. The cavlier way in which the FOI replies have been made perfectly demonstrates the attitude of contempt that this administration extends towards the need to be transparent about such matters. We live in a borough where a combination of incompetence, apathy and corruption has created an administration that is the complete reversal of everything Pickles says he wants to see in local government.

  2. Well, Barnet is getting the Oxygen of Publicity, as its attempts to use the criminal law against Mr Mustard appears on the "Rotten Boroughs" page of today's Private Eye.

    The Council has issued a statement:

    "If it falls to us to start a fight to cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism in our country with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play, so be it. We are ready for the fight. The fight against falsehood and those who peddle it. Our fight begins today. Thank you and good afternoon."

  3. Very good baarnett. I bet the council wish they could have come out with such a stirring response although they are the words of former MP Jonathan Aitken and, whatever else he was, he was a fine wordsmith.

    I expect you will find something equally appoosite for the next blog post.


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