We all accept that an offer of a hot or cold drink is a welcoming gesture in the home. Extending such hospitality in a business setting is very much the convention but the standard that is set varies enormously from organisation to organisation. I have been offered supermarket freeze dried tea and powdered milk by one host and a complete miniature afternoon cream tea prepared by the in-house chef by a second.
I have been invited to ‘executive dining’ that consists of joining the queue in the car park for the local sandwich van. Additionally I have experienced ‘partner dining’ in a professional services firm where a four course luncheon with aperitif and wine was served in a panelled room with waiters summoned by an electronic wand.
So how should we respond when we discover that the Financial Services Authority – the organisation responsible for making sure banks don’t go bust, consumers don’t get ripped off by financial product companies and traders don’t rig the markets – is spending more than half a million pounds a year (up 30% on last year) on hospitality for visitors and staff (£569,419 to be precise).
Is this a reasonable investment in cordial relations? Or just the cost of maintaining good manners?
On the other hand, is this extravagance of the worst kind by an organisation which knew its days were numbered (the Coalition Government announced very soon after the election that the FSA would be disbanded) and therefore was determined to have a splurge while it could?
Certainly many of the regulated community that pay the dues that fund the FSA are very unhappy with this increase when times are so hard for them.
But I suggest there is a deeper issue here – there has been a pattern of civil servants, quangos, regulators leaving behind the tradition of public service as an honourable end in itself and adopting the entitlement culture that is so pervasive across society.
Is it time for business to take the lead and to demonstrate that whatever we may choose to do personally, extravagant business hospitality is not compatible with our wider responsibilities to customers, shareholders and the wider community?