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Deputy Editor’s Blog: No such thing as a free lunch

One of the perks of being a journalist – trade or otherwise – is the free lunch or corporate hospitality freebie, whether that be a day at Henley Regatta or a trip to watch the rugby at Twickenham.

So imagine my horror, when settling down to a rather nice eggs benedict with an industry contact, that it was suggested the journalistic gravy train from which I was busily troughing was about to run down.

My contact, like many FDs I have spoken with in recent weeks, was voicing concern about the introduction of the new Bribery Act, designed to haul antiquated legislation around English bribery and corruption offences into the modern era.

There seems to some confusion among FDs and (if they are to be believed) their lawyers about what actually constitutes a bribe. Many FDs seem unaware that parts of the Bribery Act, due to come into force next April, cover many day-to-day practices of UK businesses from the FTSE-100 down to a one-man-band operation.

According to draft guidance issued by the Ministry of Justice, lavish corporate hospitality could be considered a bribe. Entertainment worth as little as £100 could be considered fraudulent under the terms of the Act.

Businesses will have to review the freebies they are dishing out, from hotel accommodation, to gifts, tickets to sporting events or a free round of golf.

“If lavish hospitality is provided in a manner in which it is reasonable to conclude that it is intended to induce a person to improperly perform a relevant function as defined in the bill, it will amount to a bribery offence,” a statement by the MoJ said.

Prosecutorial discretion has to be relied upon to avoid prosecution in respect of corporate hospitality and promotional expenditure. This has also caused concern, as the general offences can be committed without the wrongdoer even realising that what he or she was doing was illegal.

The new law represents a radical departure from prior practice and FDs are clamouring for clarification on the issue.

While the integrity of noble trade hacks cannot be so easily bought, I do fear that my belt buckle may begin to drop a few notches as of next year. And I never really liked golf to begin with…

 

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