Like other Victorians, VPS employees may be feeling excitement as summer and the festive season approach, having conquered the second COVID-19 wave. As the end of the year draws near, your VPS colleagues and suppliers may wish to celebrate with you. Rules about social distancing and wearing masks will be front of mind – but do you remember those rules about gifts, benefits and hospitality? CourtHeath's latest blog explores the do’s and don’ts of gifts and hospitality during this festive season.
The Victorian Public Sector Commission (VPSC) has published rules about accepting and giving gifts, benefits or hospitality (GBH). The rules are aimed at GBH that could be seen to influence, require a return favour or diminish public trust. These VPSC requirements apply to workplace participants including: executives, board members, employees, contractors, consultants and any individuals or groups undertaking activity for or on behalf of the VPS organisation.
Workplace participants have a duty to place the public interest above their own interests when carrying out their official functions. They are not permitted to accept GBH that could raise a reasonable perception of, or actual, bias or preferential treatment – and they must not accept GBH offers from those about whom they are likely to make business decisions.
Under the Supplier Code of Conduct, suppliers to the State agree not to offer GBH to VPS personnel. Reminding suppliers of this requirement (rather than accepting GBH) will help them avoid breaching the Code which is a mandatory requirement in every State tender process.
It is a requirement that all public officials declare non-token offers even if they don’t accept them. This would include gifts and invitations to Christmas parties where the per head cost is likely to meet the non-token definition ($50). Public sector organisations are required to record all offers in a register and to publish the register on their website. The VPSC also requires that non-token gifts are only accepted with written approval from the invitee’s manager or an organisational delegate. Although the VPSC defines non-token gifts, hospitality and benefits as those that are valued at more than $50, some agencies have a lower threshold for accepting and reporting offers (higher limits aren’t allowed).
Regardless of the value of an offer, VPS personnel cannot accept gifts, benefits or hospitality unless there is a legitimate business benefit to their VPS organisation. They are prohibited from accepting gifts, benefits or hospitality that may give rise to an actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest. Personnel involved in procurement, for example, must not accept any gifts, benefits or hospitality from tenderers and those involved in a compliance role must not accept gifts from those they regulate.
Unless you are in a procurement or regulatory role or similar, it is generally okay to socialise with people that you have been working with throughout the year. If you do this, it is best to pay for yourself if you are a public official – and essential to ensure that the Christmas cheer and post-lockdown celebrations don’t result in conversations about confidential topics.
The VPSC also provides guidance on the provision of gifts, benefits and hospitality by public officials. For example, holding a stakeholder Christmas function. In such a case, the VPSC requires that the “hospitality is provided for a business purpose in that it furthers the conduct of official business or other legitimate organisational goals, or promotes and supports government policy objectives and priorities.” The costs of such functions must be proportionate to the benefits and be reasonable in terms of community expectations.
The VPSC has a Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality Resource Suite available on its website. It includes a policy guide and minimum accountabilities, a model policy and gift register, and a useful one page ‘ready reckoner’ – the GIFT and HOST tests – for public officials thinking about giving and receiving gifts.
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CourtHeath would like to extend best wishes for the festive season to all of our clients. Our offices will be closed from 23 December 2020 and re-open on 4 January 2021. Have a COVID-safe and restful break.
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IMAGE: CourtHeath Consulting
Written by Pauline Bernard
[category courtheath's blog]
[#VPS, #christmas2020, #GBH]