The Ministry of Justice has failed to meet transparency requirements relating to gifts and hospitality, the National Audit Office has found.
The Cabinet Office requires central government departments to report the hospitality accepted by senior officials each quarter.
A report published by the NAO today, Investigation into the acceptance of gifts and hospitality, shows that the ministry was among five of 17 departments that had not published this information for every quarter from April 2012 to March 2015.
The ministry, along with the Home Office, Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Department for Transport, published hospitality transparency data for nine of 12 quarters. The Ministry of Defence published data for 10 quarters.
However, the MoJ had one of the lowest acceptance rates for hospitality – 87 senior officials accepted a gift or hospitality, between April 2012 and March 2015. This figure includes an estimated 22 cases based on the average number of cases in the quarters where returns were published.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said the department was 'committed' to meeting its transparency requirements.
'All of this data has now been published apart from some of the data for one quarter, which will be published shortly,' the spokesperson said.
The NAO said ‘modest’ hospitality was ‘sometimes justified’ as officials ‘often need to engage with a range of external contacts in order to carry out their work efficiently and effectively’.
Hospitality might involve ‘no more than sandwiches provided during a meeting in the middle of the day’. Gifts were often low-value items and declining them, in certain circumstances, ‘might cause offence’.
However, the NAO said rules and processes on gifts and hospitality ‘could be more stringent’.
NAO head Amyas Morse said: ‘Public officials are sometimes offered gifts and hospitality by external stakeholders which it is reasonable for them to accept. This can, however, present a risk of actual or perceived conflicts of interest, and undermine value for money or affect government’s reputation.’
Morse said most, ‘but not all’, cases declared by officials ‘appear on the face of it to be justifiable in the normal course of business’, but the NAO found ‘some weaknesses’ in the oversight and control of gifts and hospitality.
‘This needs to be addressed by the Cabinet Office and departments,’ Morse said.