As Big Local areas start to spend more in their areas, the level of scrutiny that members of the partnership and locally trusted organisations experience to is likely to increase.
While we expect partnerships to agree their own policies and procedures, we think it is important that all areas pay particular attention to the need to organise themselves in ways that are transparent and give confidence to local residents that Big Local resources are being properly managed and spent.
A key part of this is ensuring that there is good practice around recognising and managing conflicts of interest.
Lots of partnerships have developed policies and procedures that already follow good practice and are working well. However, we know that some areas have encountered difficulties or have asked for clearer guidance on the sorts of issues that needed to be covered in a conflict of interest policy.
In general we expect partnerships to use their judgement in recognising conflicts of interest when they arise and manage them appropriately. However, based on our experience of working with areas, there are a number of potential conflicts of interest which Big Local partnerships should be particularly aware of, take action to avoid and take account of in their policies and procedures.
We consider the following to be particularly important issues to address in a partnership’s conflict of interest policy:
- The role of a paid Big Local worker in partnership decisions.
- The presence of families, either related by birth or marriage on the partnership.
- People in positions of power and influence (real or perceived) such as chair, vice-chair, secretary, treasurer, worker etc. that are related by birth or marriage.
- Procurement and/or grant making decisions.
Partnerships and paid workers
We know that most partnerships now have some form of paid worker, though the contractual relationships, role and workplan vary in each area. A paid worker who is also a decision maker or voting member of the partnership is an unacceptable conflict of interest. This is because the role of the paid worker is to support the work of Big Local and the partnership and they receive a wage to do so. The risk is that they could be perceived as having undue influence on decisions, including decisions which affect their paid work. Our expectation is that in no circumstances should a paid worker also sit as a voting member of the partnership.
Partnerships and families
One of our criteria for partnerships is that members should reflect the range and diversity of people who live in your area. Partnerships are small groups, so when family members are on a partnership together, it is often not possible to reflect the diversity of people in an area. The small group can easily become dominated by people who are related. This can lead to a perception that the partnership is dominated by a small or exclusive clique.
For this reason we do not believe it is acceptable for more than two people from the same family or who live in the same household to be partnership members. By related, we mean married couples, civil partner or unmarried partner, parent, grandparent, child or sibling.
People in positions of power and influence
Partnerships should be particularly careful of any perception of conflicts of interest involving people in positions of power and influence (real or perceived) such as chair, vice chair, secretary and treasurer. We know that people are individuals and that everyone brings something different to the role, but it is unacceptable to Local Trust to have people in positions of power who are related because it leaves both those individuals, the wider partnership and Big Local vulnerable to accusations of improper influence on decision making or inadequate oversight of the decision-making process.
In no circumstances should a Big Local worker (employed or sub-contracted through a locally trusted organisation or otherwise) be related to a person in a position of power or influence in a partnership. Particular care should be taken to avoid any perceptions of conflicts of interest when members of a partnership are related to a worker.
Avoiding conflicts of interest in procurement or grant making
Many partnerships have processes in place to make procurement (buying) or grant-making decisions by competitive tendering for contracts. As a partnership member, you should not be involved in a decision about who gets a particular contract if:
- You might get a financial benefit from the decision - for example, if you work for a local organisation or business that receives Big Local money to deliver activities or services, or owns a meeting space that the partnership pays to use.
- You might get an indirect financial benefit from the decision - for example, if a close relative or friend is employed by an organisation that receives Big Local money, or is doing work paid for with Big Local money.
- Your loyalty to Big Local might conflict with your loyalty to another group or organisation. This might be because you are a member or trustee of, or have links with, an organisation or group outside Big Local. Although you yourself may not gain any financial benefit, your decision-making could be influenced by your other interests.