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Civil servants wined and dined by bankers and tobacco giants: Hospitality rules even softer than in Brussels!

Public officials have been wined, dined and showered with gifts by big business – raising the risk of serious conflicts of interest, a watchdog warned last night.

Tickets to Wimbledon, iPads, bottles of champagne and dinners at some of the best restaurants were handed out by bankers, arms firms and financial giants.

Civil servants have been treated to hampers from Fortnum & Mason and secured invitations to private viewings of art exhibitions and movie premieres, the National Audit Office found.

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 its report.

Perks have also been extended to the husbands, wives and children of Whitehall’s most powerful mandarins.

The watchdog concluded that Cabinet Office rules on the hospitality that bureaucrats can receive are even less stringent than the European Commission’s rules – opening up government to the risk of ‘substantial reputational damage’.

Looking at only three departments in depth, the report found that more than £150,000 of gifts and hospitality were given to officials in one year.

It comes a fortnight after Chancellor George Osborne faced a deluge of criticism over his claim that allowing Google to pay £130million to cover a decade of back taxes was a ‘victory’.

The report revealed that officials from HM Revenue & Customs were entertained by firms including Unilever, Sky and Imperial Tobacco – raising further questions about the taxman’s closeness to big business.


Between April 2012 and March 2015, senior officials in 17 departments accepted gifts and hospitality 3,413 times from 1,495 organisations or individuals.

In 2014/2015, the value of these freebies was estimated at £29,000. The report disclosed scores of examples of arms firms such as BAE Systems inviting officials from defence quangos to dinner, as well as firms providing hospitality despite also being major suppliers to government.

Across all departments, the City of London Corporation wined and dined senior officials 73 times, while the British Bankers Association funded 21 events.


The report said: ‘British Bankers’ Association was among the most frequent providers of hospitality, at the same time that some of its members were being investigated in the UK for market manipulations and by the competition regulator.’

As well as looking at Whitehall as a whole, the NAO carried out detailed work on three departments – the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, HMRC and the Defence Equipment and Support quango – where they considered hospitality accepted by all officials; not just senior ones.

They found that these officials accepted £154,000 of gifts and hospitality in 2014/15. Arms firms have enjoyed regular access to officials from DE&S, with BAE Systems wining and dining them no fewer than 581 times in three years.

The NAO concluded: ‘Although the total value of hospitality accepted may not be high, the reputational risks around accepting it can be substantial.

‘While most of cases of gifts and hospitality appeared to be reasonable, we found some examples where acceptance may not have been consistent with the Cabinet Office principles.’

The Cabinet Office said: ‘The Government welcomes this report which shows that the system is working well, with offers of hospitality being recorded and properly acted upon.

‘This government is the most transparent ever.’


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