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Wirral Council crackdown on gifts to officers
PROCEDURES to ensure council officers respond properly when they receive free gifts or face conflicts of interest have been tightened up following a wrap on the knuckles by the district auditor.
Last September the auditor highlighted freebies accepted by officers - including theatre trips, horse races tickets, an airline flight, rounds of golf and a foreign holiday - were among those not properly recorded.
The report did not name individual officers nor did it reveal where the generous donations came from.
However, it highlighted there had been a “high incidence of non-compliance with procedures and incomplete records,” and the department of adult social services was singled out as having no register for gifts and hospitality.
The department was given a one-star rating, meaning the current system is in “urgent need of improvement.”
Now a new set of guidelines has been drawn up and is ready for approval by the employment and appointments committee tomorrow night.
A report by the council’s human resources manager, Tony Williams, says the “Conflict of Interest and Gifts and Hospitalities Policies and Procedures” have been reviewed in the light of the auditor's criticisms.
They now provide greater clarity of the council’s position, the responsibilities of officers and the procedures they must follow to ensure compliance.
His report reminds councillors: “The council is funded almost entirely from public funds, either through grants from central government or through council tax, funded from the local tax-payer.
“It is therefore essential that the authority can demonstrate the highest standards of probity in general, and specifically in relation to its dealings with third parties.
“The council therefore needs appropriate policies and procedures in place to provide a clear framework for how offers of gifts and hospitality and potential conflicts of interest should be handled."
And he warns things must improve or risk a fate dreaded by the town hall since consultant Anna Klonowski's damning review of corporate governance: "the potential for damage to the council’s reputation”.
The new procedures give detailed guidance on what represents a conflict of interest and the type of gifts that must be declared.
They insist all department heads keep an up-to-date record and that it is logged with HR.
Officers will be “given clarity” on the potential consequences of non-compliance with the rules.
And an annual report detailing all gifts and declarations will be collated and sent to councillors.