The Independent carries a story here about how accountancy firms have been supplying staff free of charge to the Conservative Party. One might not think there was much wrong with that. All parties accept free support, and the accountants obviously hope to benefit from the estimated £4 billion in consultancy contracts that will be available from the next government.
But wait a minute. What would the position be if the boot was on the other foot and a potential client was giving substantial free gifts to audit firms? Despite a self policing professional body that bends over backwards to clear the Big 4 firms whenever possible, it is hard to see how an audit firm could escape censure if it accepted six-figure gifts. Why does that matter? Because the offer and receipt of gifts or hospitality might be seen to prejudice the judgement of the recipient, thereby protecting the investing public.
One of the firms providing hundreds of thousands pounds worth of free services to the Conservative party has rules for its own staff prohibiting:
- gifts worth more than £25
- hospitality from any client or supplier exceeding £500 per annum, or in sensitive case all hospitality
Does the same not apply to political parties? Should they not be constrained by rules to prevent a perception of partiality in the award of contracts paid for by tax payers?