Somerset County Council
Home / Declarations - Members' gifts and hospitality

Declarations - Members' gifts and hospitality

Introduction

Gifts and Hospitality Guidance

To assist members with their declaration of gifts and hospitality, declarations can now be made on-line using this form. This removes the need for email or telephone notification. The following paragraphs contain guidance to members on the requirements to make such declarations as agreed by the Standards Committee.

General Advice

In certain circumstances the acceptance of gifts and hospitality can be lawful and appropriate as provided for by the Members’ Code of Conduct. It is your decision whether or not to accept any gift or hospitality that might be offered to you, having regard to how it might be perceived. But in general, you should treat with caution any offer or gift, favour or hospitality that is made to you personally. You could be accused of breaking the law or the Code of Conduct, or your personal reputation and that of the Council can be seriously jeopardised. This guidance is to help you make your decision.

Criminal Law

It is a criminal offence ‘corruptly to solicit or receive’ any gift, reward or advantage as an inducement to doing or forbearing to do anything in respect of any transaction involving the Council. The onus would be on you to disprove any challenge on the grounds of corruption.

Limits of this guidance

This guidance does not apply to:
• Gifts and hospitality from family and friends (eg. as birthday or Christmas presents) that are not related to your position as a member.
• The acceptance of facilities or hospitality provided by the Council.
• Gifts given to the Council that you accept formally on the Council’s behalf and are retained by the Council and not by you personally.

Definition of Gifts and Hospitality

The expressions ‘gifts’ and ‘hospitality’ have wide meanings and no conclusive definition is possible. Gifts and hospitality include:
• The free gift of any goods or services.
• The opportunity to acquire any goods or services at a discount or at terms not available to the general public.
• The opportunity to obtain goods or services not available to the general public.
• The offer of food, drink, accommodation or entertainment or the opportunity to attend a cultural or sporting event.

Common gifts include pens, diaries, calendars and other business stationery, articles of clothing, books, flowers and bouquets. You should however be cautious with purchases, when additional services, privileges or advantages are offered, which might be related to your position as a member.

Examples of Acceptable Gifts and Hospitality

Gifts and hospitality which may be accepted in your duties as a member, eg:
• Reasonable hospitality arising as a result of Council business and which may be provided by another public authority or as a matter of courtesy by a person or organisation with whom the Council has a legitimate connection.
• Normal and modest refreshment in connection with any meeting in the course of your work as a member (e.g. tea, coffee, biscuits and lunch).
• Tickets for cultural and entertainment events which are sponsored or promoted by the Council, and the tickets are offered in relation to that sponsorship or promotion.
• Small low value gifts (such as pens, calendars, diaries, flowers and other mementos and tokens).
• Souvenirs from other public bodies intended as personal gifts arising from civic events. However, these should be treated as civic gifts for the organisation and passed to the Chairman to hold on behalf of the Council.

It is appreciated that in certain circumstances it may cause offence to refuse gifts. In those circumstances, you should consider how the gift might be perceived and if you have any concern, you should receive the gift on behalf of the Council and pass it to the Chairman to hold on behalf of the Council.

Gifts and hospitality worth more than £25 have to be registered and you should consider carefully whether to accept any gift or hospitality which is obviously above this value even if you consider it appropriate to do so.

Examples of Unacceptable Gifts and Hospitality

(a) Paid holiday, leisure travel or accommodation
(b) Use of an individual or organisation’s flat or hotel
(c) Non- reciprocal invitations to high-profile or prestige events, unless specifically authorised on behalf of the Council
(d) Cash gifts
(e) Significant gifts in kind (eg a case of whisky)

Principles to Apply in Relation to Gifts and Hospitality

In deciding whether it is appropriate to accept any gift or hospitality you are advised to apply the following principles:
(a) You should not accept a gift or hospitality as an inducement or reward for anything you do as a member. If you have any suspicion that the motive behind the gift or hospitality is an inducement or reward you should decline it.
(b) Not to accept a gift or hospitality of significant value or whose value is excessive in the circumstances.
(c) Not to accept a gift or hospitality if acceptance might be open to misinterpretation. Such circumstances will include gifts and hospitality:

(i) From parties involved with the Council in a procurement process.
(ii) From applicants for planning permission, licences, consents and approvals.
(iii) From applicants at that time for grants, including voluntary bodies and other organisations applying for public funding.
(iv) From parties at that time in legal proceedings with the Council.

(d) Not to accept a gift or hospitality if you believe it will put you under any obligation to the provider as a consequence.
(e) Never solicit any gift or hospitality and avoid giving any perception of so doing.

Registration and Declaration of Gifts and Hospitality

The Code of Conduct provides that gifts or hospitality with an estimated value in excess of £25 must be notified to the Monitoring Officer in writing within 28 days of receipt. The registration should include the source and nature of the gift or hospitality. The Monitoring Officer will include the notification on a public register of gifts and hospitality. When you complete and send the on-line form the Monitoring Officer is notified automatically.

The above requirement includes an accumulation of offers of gifts or hospitality from the same source which together exceed the £25 threshold.

Members are also recommended to register gifts or hospitality over £25 that have been offered but declined.

You are also able to voluntarily register any significant gift or hospitality you receive below this value if you wish. However, there is no obligation to make a declaration in relation to gifts and hospitality on the register which are at or below £25 in value.

Reporting of Inappropriate Gifts and Hospitality offered

Always report to the Monitoring Officer any circumstances where an inappropriate gift or hospitality has been offered to you. You may later be required to assist the Police in providing evidence.