Conflicts of interest
We always declare any potential conflict of interest. If we’re not sure, we ask
What it's all about
Imagine this: You work for Serco, and your partner has a successful independent business. Serco wins a new contract and needs a new supplier. You are the person to choose who it will be. You choose your partner.
It may be that they are the best choice. But if you haven’t declared that the supplier you have chosen is your partner, even if you’ve gone through all the proper processes and checks, it could very well seem or even be the case that your choice is designed to benefit you and your partner, and not Serco.
That’s called a “personal” conflict of interest. If we don’t declare it, we can end up in a situation that improperly influences our judgement. It may even lead us or someone we know to try to benefit at the expense of Serco.
There’s also an “organisational” conflict of interest in which a company can end up with an unfair competitive advantage. For example, if Serco were to employ someone who might influence government decisions, we’d potentially have an unfair advantage over our competitors when bidding for government contracts.
The big problem with both these is that they don’t just have the potential to be unfair – they can also open the door to bribery and corruption.
So we always declare any potential conflict of interest as soon as we are aware of it.
Conflicts of interest can do great damage to those involved, and to Serco’s reputation - even if no one ever intended to gain an unfair or illegal benefit or become involved in bribery.
That’s why understanding and declaring any potential for a conflict of interest before it may take place is the key to preventing harm and avoiding prosecution.
Just the appearance of a conflict of interest can do serious damage.
“I didn’t think it mattered so I didn’t say anything about my daughter’s business. How I wish I had! It’s caused us so much trouble.”
What we all need to know and do
Conflicts of interest open the door to bribery and corruption. That’s why just the perception that a conflict of interest has influenced a particular outcome can undermine a company’s integrity, resulting in loss of public confidence and trust.
It’s so important for us to identify and always declare any actual or potential conflict of interest we may have. If we’re not sure, we always ask. We never leave room for doubt. Here are some examples of actual or potential personal conflicts of interest:
We have a second job
We, our spouse, partner, or family member:
has a financial interest in any business or company we do business with
is employed by any other Serco business or joint venture
is employed by a direct competitor to any other Serco business or joint venture
is employed by a supplier of goods or services to Serco
We never accept any incentives that could give us any reason to act against the best interests of Serco or do anything that might mean Serco has an unfair advantage.
We always make business decisions on behalf of Serco rather than our own personal interests or the interests of our family or friends.
We always report any outside business relationships or roles we have to our manager. Here are some examples:
If we have a second job, provide services, or are a director in another organisation.
If we have a relationship with a competitor, customer, or supplier.
We must never have any significant financial interest in a supplier, including investments and debts. This applies if we have any kind of relationship with them, either directly or through someone who reports to us.
We always report any potential or actual Organisational Conflict of Interest that may give Serco an unfair competitive advantage or give rise to possible bribery as soon as we become aware of it, and follow any plans put in place to manage it.
If we’re already in a potential conflict of interest, or know of someone else who is, we report it as soon as we realise. That way we’ll help to minimise any harm that may have been done.
Aldo had watched Greg slip into a relationship with Kira who worked with one of Serco’s suppliers. She was new, likeable – and clearly knew what she was doing. But what if this relationship with Greg wasn’t ‘innocent’? Kira’s company was about to start bidding for more Serco work. Or what if it was innocent - but people just didn’t see it that way?
Greg just seemed to dismiss any idea that his relationship was anyone else’s business. Which was why Aldo had decided to flag this. ‘Greg, you know what I’m going to say.’
Greg shifted in his chair, defiant. ‘I know you’re worried about my relationship with Kira, but it’s MY relationship. And it’s nothing to do with Serco – or anyone else!’
It was Aldo’s turn. ‘Mate, she’s lovely, no question. But you have to say something - or you could get into serious trouble.’
‘You’re wrong!’ Greg said. ‘I’ve checked. The Code says I can enjoy social and normal business relations’, so it’s fine. I like her – and I’m going to continue seeing her!’
But Aldo knew Greg was ignoring the central point. ‘With conflicts of interest, it doesn’t matter if there’s no actual conflict. It’s how things look. And this relationship could look like there is one. You want someone accusing you and her of something?’
‘Like, her company wins the bid, and one of the other competitors says that’s because you helped Kira to gain an unfair advantage. If someone suggests there’s a conflict, and you haven’t declared this relationship, you are in serious trouble. So is she. So is the company. You want that? You have to declare this, Greg. Now!’
‘So, what - I go to my manager and declare that I’m seeing a supplier and all’s good?”
‘Exactly. It’s that simple! Then they can check it out, monitor it and it’s managed. I know it sounds a bit clinical for a relationship, but it’s a few moments in what could be a much longer thing with Kira. And she’s worth it, isn’t she?’
Greg looked at him, and softened. ‘Yeah, she is. Okay, I’ll go and see him when I get back. I guess I’ve chosen to work for an ethical company, I need to toe the line. Thanks mate!’
Conflicts of interest can do great damage to those involved, and to Serco’s reputation - even if no one ever intended to gain an unfair or illegal benefit.
Today was no different. Awkward glances. Clusters of people clearly talking about us. I felt uncomfortable, as usual, but HR said to carry on as normal and we’d had the team meetings to try and set the record straight.
I guess we just have to wait it out, hope it gets better.
It started when we were seen out together one night. Su was my boss at the hospital you see, which meant officially we should have declared we were going out together.
But we’d been taking things carefully, before deciding whether it was a ‘thing’, or not. So we were keeping it to ourselves. We’d seen the document that said we had to highlight any potential personal conflict of interest, but we didn’t and time went by. It went off our radar.
When people found out, it all went a bit crazy.
The team said they felt uneasy around us. They said they didn’t know whether anything they said would be repeated to Su. They felt uncomfortable, they didn’t trust us.
We just didn’t think about it from their point of view. It’s disrupted our team dynamic and it could have been avoided. It’s affected our relationship too, of course, but we want to stay together, so it’s been a test.
If only we had handled it properly from the beginning - spoken to HR and followed the process.
Well, maybe tomorrow will be better.
Understanding and declaring any potential for a conflict of interest before it may take place is the key to preventing harm.
Having won a new contract for the government, it was all systems go. We needed a break during yet another exhaustive planning meeting and took a walk outside.
Anita was new to the team and started talking about how kicking off projects was the best part of one of her old jobs. She then went quiet and changed the subject. No one else noticed, but when we were together later I picked her up on it. As her manager and because she was new in role, I wanted to make sure she was ok.
It then came tumbling out. Anita had worked as a government employee when the project we were working on had first come to light. As part of her induction, she’d read our Code of Conduct – and seen that confidential information she had been aware of in her government role could not be shared in her role at Serco.
‘I realise it’s so no one can accuse me of disclosing confidential information that could give Serco an unfair advantage,’ she said. ‘But it says in some countries that can include one-year, two-year or even permanent bans on communicating with my former government colleagues. Some are good friends!’
She was getting upset and confused, so it needed to be addressed.
I admit it crossed my mind that it might be best to keep quiet and not cause a load of fuss. But that was just stupid – and could cause a lot more trouble if anyone found out.
So I went straight to HR with her to log the situation and ask what to do next. Of course we had to declare it and we prepared a presentation to our government client that showed how we would manage the situation.
As Anita had held a senior position, we would ensure her role would not interact with the government’s team.
We also made it clear that we would not ask her to disclose any information learned while she was employed by them, but use her expertise to enhance the project, offline.
It was the right thing to do and by taking control of the situation, having a plan and being open and honest about it, our government contacts were comfortable with how we would proceed.
Just the perception that a conflict of interest has influenced a particular outcome can undermine a company’s integrity, resulting in the loss of public confidence.
I first became aware of a problem when Hans was turning up for work tired. Don’t get me wrong, he was doing his job, but maybe not quite as quickly or thoroughly as normal. It was time to have a chat.
I asked Hans how he was feeling about his workload at the moment. He was cautious at first and concerned where I was going with the conversation. I wanted to reassure him that he was a valuable member of the team but hadn’t recently been working at his normal capacity. Could he explain why that might be?
He said it wasn’t a problem, but he had taken a second job and was just getting into a rhythm with it and it would all be fine, no big deal.
A second job … that was something I wasn’t aware of. A raft of questions bounced through my head, all focused on whether Serco was being put at risk.
Hans explained it was for a competitor, but in a different role and not where he felt he would be compromised. It was also evening shift work. And that was when I had to be blunt to make my point.
I told him this was actually a very big deal, and I explained why.
Firstly, his priority as a Serco employee is to ensure he always works in Serco’s best interests.
Secondly, the other job should have been declared and written permission from Serco should have been obtained. That would have led us to check if there was a risk and help record, monitor and manage the situation to ensure there was no conflict of interest.
I then asked how many hours he was working in this job. He said, ‘30 hours a week, but don’t worry I’m in control.’ That annoyed me. If he was working 40 hours a week with us and then 30 with the other company, that’s 70 hours a week. So no wonder he wasn’t working at full capacity.
It was time to take this to HR and see where we should go from here. But frankly, it was edging towards a warning or more for Hans - and for us to take control.
We always report any outside business relationships or roles we have to our manager.
Bez Allur was a Serco employee. His nephew had a cleaning company and two years ago it won a cleaning contract with Serco.
Another cleaning firm that had been tendering argued that Bez’s relationship with his nephew meant that there was an unfair and uncompetitive advantage and took Serco to court.
The court found in favour of Serco and of Bez’s nephew.
The reason was very simple. Bez said that he knew his nephew’s company was going to apply for the tender and that this could have meant a conflict of interest, so he followed mycode straight away. ‘I declared it to my manager and asked to be taken out of the process until a supplier had been selected.’
The other company argued that Bez had been involved in the early days of developing the tender brief, and would therefore have been able to shape the tender to suit his nephew’s company and that he would have been able to give his nephew unfair insight into what Serco was after.
However, the court found that Bez had followed all the correct steps to manage the conflict from the start, had made sure that he could not influence the decision and that Serco’s procedures were industry leading.
After the case, Bez commented, ‘If I hadn’t done the right thing from the outset things could have ended up very differently and done a lot of harm to Serco, my nephew’s company and me. I’m proud of how we managed this COI at all points in the process, from when I self-reported to now, I felt Serco was on my side.”
Understanding and declaring any potential for a conflict of interest before it may take place is the key to preventing harm.