Revealed: free gifts and hospitality to Watford Borough Council staff

Stace hosted former development director Mr Dobrashian in its box at White Hart Lane for a Manchester United football match.

Stace hosted former development director Mr Dobrashian in its box at White Hart Lane for a Manchester United football match.

First published in News Watford Observer: Photograph of the Author by , Web content editor

Free dinners, DVD box sets, a ticket to a premier league football match, and even a loaf of bread have all been given to staff at Watford Borough Council.

A register of gifts and hospitality received by the town hall shows a host of freebies that officials have accepted and turned away.

Among those to enjoy perks was the borough’s managing director, Manny Lewis, who had three free dinners totalling more than £300 with council contractors of the Watford Health Campus and Croxley Rail Link at the end of 2012.

As well as a table at the Sparks charity dinner worth £80, from Vinci, the principal rail link builder, Mr Lewis, was also wined and dined by health campus partners Grant Thornton and Kier Group.

In his register Mr Lewis said he accepted an £80 dinner invitation to celebrate the health campus financial approval, "as an opportunity to talk informally to partners on health campus issues."

He then attended a construction industry annual dinner plus an overnight stay in a hotel, worth £150, courtesy of preferred bidder for the health campus redevelopment Kier Group.

He said: "I accepted this as an opportunity to meet and develop relationships with the Kier Group chief executive, Paul Sheffield and Nigel Turner the Kier partner responsible for the Health Campus delivery team."

Also dining out on the health campus scheme was Tom Dobrashian, former development director, who attended a dinner at the PFI/PPP awards event worth £40, thanks to the project’s legal consultant Nabarro in February 2013.

Earlier in the year Stace, the project’s construction consultant, hosted Mr Dobrashian in its box at White Hart Lane for a Manchester United football match, worth £70, including "crisps, sandwiches and two beers."

Bernard Clarke, head of strategic finance, was taken out twice by Grant Thornton, the council’s external auditors and a consultant in the Watford Health Campus, during 2012.

He attended the annual South East Regional Dinner, worth £35, and a drinks reception at the Cipfa conference worth £15.

At the same conference Mr Clarke was treated to a Chinese dinner worth £30 by Sector Treasury Services, which has a contract with the council until 2015.

The register also showed that planning officer Neil Farnsworth was treated to a selection of gifts during his public facing role in the council’s planning office.

Gifts including bottles of Prosecco and red wine, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Thornton’s chocolates and even a loaf of fresh bread have been left on the reception desk by residents who Mr Farnsworth has advised in planning matters.

One builder even left a box of DVD and Blu-Ray discs including a Friends box set and the Godfather trilogy, which Mr Farnsworth accepted but later sent back.

Watford Borough Council said Mr Farnsworth did not hold a decision making role, and was often called upon to help people in the customer service centre with queries about planning.

Lisa Morgan, from the council, added: "It is standard practice for senior officers to attend modest corporate hospitality dinners and networking events from time to time.

"This is no different to what happens in terms of relationship building in any private or public business. The only difference is that we have a robust system for declaring and reporting all hospitality and gifts received to ensure the utmost transparency at all times."

Comments (1)

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8:53pm Wed 15 Jan 14

watfoid says...

After all these agreeable dinners and drinks, I hope Watford councillors have been treated to gym membership. They probably will need to shed a few pounds after a year bordering on the Bacchanalian.
After all these agreeable dinners and drinks, I hope Watford councillors have been treated to gym membership. They probably will need to shed a few pounds after a year bordering on the Bacchanalian. watfoid
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