A free holiday, golf, and trips to Old Trafford - all in a day's work for some Wirral Council officers (From Wirral Globe)
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A free holiday, golf, and trips to Old Trafford - all in a day's work for some Wirral Council officers
COUNCIL officers failing to record free gifts in the right way will damage the authority’s reputation, according to a senior councillor.
Freebies including theatre trips, Chester races tickets a flight, golf and a holiday – worth £2,000 - were among those highlighted by the District Auditor.
The watchdog's report, which went before a council audit committee on Wednesday night, criticised officers for not properly declaring gifts and hospitality offered to them.
The document does not name individual officers nor does 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 rating of ‘one star,’ meaning the current system is in “urgent need of improvement.”
Wirral Council chief executive Graham Burgess said he would be looking at each officer’s case individually.
He told the Globe: “We agreed with the auditor that the report should be published in full and that we would be open and transparent about the officers not following the correct procedures.
“I have asked to look at each individual case from the report.
“But a number of the cases do not cause me concern as the officers were meeting key people investing in Wirral or building relationships.
"I understand that the findings could be seen in a negative way - but a key issue is that it could bring a benefit to Wirral and officers were carrying out additional work in their own time.”
The auditor recommended that all staff and managers were reminded of the correct procedures and guidelines when accepting and recording freebies.
However Labour councillor Steve Foulkes said the report would do little to help the authority’s already struggling reputation.
He said: “It’s a wake-up call for everyone and there is an important lesson to be learned. However, some of the things don’t read well and it doesn’t sound good.
“This will do our reputation damage and we need to tackle it head on and make sure everyone is 100% clear about what they do in those difficult situations.”
During the meeting, Tory councillor Leah Fraser also expressed her dismay at council workers not being able to accept small tokens of appreciation such as chocolates.
She said: “I was shocked to find that if officers or receptionists receive a box of chocolates for Christmas, they cannot keep them. Instead, they have to give them to the mayor’s charity.”
Officers are advised to refuse any personal gift from anyone who has, or potentially have, dealings with the council and should report the offer to their chief officer.
However the guidelines stipulate senior officers may accept hospitality if it falls in-line with carrying out their duties to the council and if the details are recorded as soon as possible.
But the report found that some entries onto the record had been signed by the officers themselves or their deputies, whereas some had not been signed off at all.
Out of 13 files assessed by the District Auditor, nine did not comply with procedures and “there was generally insufficient information to assess whether gifts and hospitality had been considered in line with guidance.”
Other instances included an honorary membership to West Kirby Sailing Club – thought to be worth more than £200 per year – and a ticket to a European Cup match at Old Trafford.
A senior officer accepted a number of instances of hospitality including golf, a flight, accommodation and meals amounting to £2,000.
Procedures were not complied with and there was insufficient information to tell whether the hospitality was considered in line with guidance.