Sleepy Surrey Slides into Sourcing and Sino-shareholding Sensationalism!

I live in Surrey, the classic, somewhat sleepy, commuter-land county. Here’s a good quiz fact – Surrey is the most wooded County in England... isn’t that amazing! Most of those trees are in private woodland and back gardens owned by affluent bankers, one suspects...

But something seems to have got into the water recently. We reported here on the Surrey (and West Midlands) Police idea to launch a procurement for an outsource  “partner” to do – well, anything and everything really. It’s a seriously flawed idea and most unlike conservative and Conservative Surrey to come up with something so bold.

Surrey - hotbed of commercial controversy

Then last week, as the BBC reported, the Surrey Council Leader, David Hodge, sacked two of his own Tory councillors, Ian Lake and  Denise Saliagopoulos, from their Cabinet (Board) positions. The row centres on their directorship of a consultancy company that offers Olympic Games hospitality packages to overseas visitors and they have been told their roles represented a conflict of interest. Just to add some spice, there appear to be links to other mystery shareholders of this firm "based in China".

Lake and Saliagopoulos insist they have done nothing wrong and have been treated badly, but Hodge dismissed the pair from their posts on Tuesday and referred both to the council's standards committee. And it’s all rather mysterious, as no-one is saying just what they have allegedly done.

Two points strike us here. Firstly, we’re fortunate in procurement that we have clear ethical standards (like the CIPS ethical policy) that do make it pretty clear what we should and should not do. Isn’t it time we had some simple equivalent that EVEYBODY in public life signs up to, whether it is public sector budget holders, senior execs, or elected representatives?

Secondly, as we move more and more into a world where people have what Charles Handy called “portfolio careers”, with a range of different business interests, perhaps combining consulting with some non-exec or educational work, people in public life are more likely to come across conflicts as their own interests will be wider. There was another case recently (which we’ve been intending to cover) where a key person in a vital Health Service governance role has a business interest in firms who are providers to the sector. (That seemed inadvisable to us).

So everyone is going to need to be careful here; and I wonder if procurement people could take a wider and more pro-active role in their organisations in terms of putting the right safeguards in place? At least we tend to have personal experience and a decent understanding of the conflicts that can come about whenever an organisation is spending money and interacting commercially with the outside world.

And we look forward to finding out what the Surrey Two have allegedly done – I suspect this week’s Private Eye might help!

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First Voice

  1. Ed Cross:

    Peter, wholeheartedly agree on a set of standards for all in public office. However…whilst I was a governor of a primary school I had to sign an annual disclosure of any commerical interests that might clash with the school’s interests….surely if I did this as an unpaid part time governor this must be, firstly a standard practise for all (!?!) and prevalent in the public sector?

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