Friday, 7 January 2011

When is a bribe not a bribe?

I was intrigued by a recent report in the Guardian "Whitehall supplier offers year's worth of free contracts while times are tough" (see:

On the face of it this seems laudable; ostensibly, as part of  their 'corporate social responsibility' agenda, KPMG are offering very low cost or no cost consultancy to government. The rationale, as stated by their head of public sector, Alan Downey is: "Government is turning to firms such as us to help them carry out its major reforms but without a willingness to pay. We can't afford to do it indefinitely, but we can in the short-term."

All well and good you might think. But I was interested in what was said in the next breath: "We're hoping to position ourselves well when the government decides it is willing to pay."

So, as in other walks of life - there's no such thing as a free lunch. No big surprise there - but it did get me thinking and raise a number of interesting questions: how many firms can afford to do this? What does that mean for small and medium sized enterprises - firms that this government has said it wants to see get a greater proportion of public sector work? And perhaps most pertinent of all, two related questions: should the government be accepting 'free' consultancy? And is there an expectation created that such free work will be rewarded by future (paid-for) contracts?

Perhaps I'm being too cynical and unkind when I answer the question: when is a bribe not a bribe? With - when its dressed up as 'corporate social responsibility'. But such an approach - albeit forced upon people by the austerity regime - does seem to me to be potentially anti-competitive.

What's your view?