Scrutinising government

Bureau publishes comprehensive civil service hospitality database

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The UK’s most senior civil servants have been wined and dined by major corporations and interest groups on more than 3,100 occasions in the last three years, the Bureau can reveal.

Research gathering together for the first time each department’s hospitality release and extra information obtained through Freedom of Information laws has uncovered the extent of corporate entertainment offered to top mandarins.

The Civil Service Code, with which all top bureaucrats must comply, rules that “civil servants must not receive gifts, hospitality or benefits of any kind … which might be seen to compromise their personal judgment or integrity”.

However, many civil servants have regularly accepted dinner, opera tickets, football matches and catwalk invites from companies with multimillion pound contracts.

HMRC permanent secretary for tax, Dave Hartnett, is the most-dined civil servant, based on currently available information. He accepted hospitality on 107 seperate occasions in recent years. Last September was a particularly busy month, in which Hartnett accepted four dinners, two lunches and two breakfasts with outside interests.

Accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers and KPMG were the most active hospitality providers, though Fujitsu, BT, Deloitte and arms giant BAE were also frequent lobbyists.

Bureau editor Iain Overton said government departments should be more transparent in their dealings with big business.

“There is nothing wrong with meeting people from industry, but fine dining and corporate boxes may lead to accusations of undue influence,” he said.

“At the least we should be entitled to know whether mandarins ate at Claridges or Pizza Hut, and whether big tenders were in the offing.”

A sample of the data released to the Sunday Times has already resulted in policy change by the cabinet office. Civil servants have been barred from attending future events held by the Chemistry Club, a Mayfair dining club which charges companies up to £11,000 a year to mix with top public sector workers and politicians.

See the full data here.

Reporting by James Ball and Yuba Bessaoud