Call for ban on gift-taking

AN OUTRIGHT ban on all gifts to public servants in Suffolk has been called for after it emerged a plethora of presents, including handbags, a flight and shopping vouchers have been received.

AN OUTRIGHT ban on all gifts to public servants in Suffolk has been called for after it emerged a plethora of presents, including handbags, a flight and shopping vouchers have been received.

Suffolk County Council has strict guidelines for the types of gifts and hospitality that its 27,000 employees can receive.

The county council's own code of conduct for gifts states: “All personal gifts from contractors, outside suppliers and similar persons and organisations should be discouraged, refused or donated to charity. “The only exceptions to this are insignificant items of token value, such as pens, diaries and calendars.”

But gifts received so far this year, includes handbags, bottles of Champagne, flowers, theatre tickets and an air ticket.

Using an estimated average value of £25 per item - the threshold above which gifts have to be declared - the value of presents and hospitality given to staff would run to £1,800.

As a result, a complete ban on all gifts to council officers has been called for.

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But this stance, according to county council leader Jeremy Pembroke, is unnecessary and could be seen as “downright rude” by organisations offering token gifts to council officers.

John Klaschka , chairman of the county council's audit committee, said: “My personal belief is that nobody in the public sector, whether an officer or a councillor, should accept any gifts of any kind.

“You've really got to be squeaky clean.”

But he said in the cases of an officer who received a flight to Holland to look at lighting columns or offers of lunch to council staff, accepting was part and parcel of carrying out council business.

Mr Klaschka added: “We have a rigorous monitoring system which is audited twice per year against nationally set standards.

“Given the tight regulation and monitoring I would be very disappointed if anyone was to imply criticism of our officers.”

According to the list, the most commonly declared items were alcoholic gifts, followed closely by free lunches. More unusual items include a basket of plants, a tea towel, a knitted scarf and a box of recipe cards.

Five of the gifts declared by officers were handed over to the Cancer Campaign in Suffolk, the chosen charity of the former council chairman Jeremy Clover.

Two of those were from the council's chief executive, Mike More, who received Champagne, wine, a water jug and tickets to Ipswich Town's home clash against Leeds.

Reg Hartles, chairman of Protest Against Council Tax Suffolk, said: “I'm totally against staff being given gifts. They should not be getting rewards for doing a job we are paying them for.”

n. Do you think council staff should receive gifts? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or email eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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