Sprowston bowlers baffled by bribery warning

Members of a bowls club near Norwich today spoke of their disbelief after they were warned to stop tipping grounds staff to reward their hard work – because it might be classed as bribery.

Sprowston Recreation Ground Bowls Club has for years given staff at the Recreation Ground Road-based green �20 at the end of the year in recognition of the work they do to keep the surface immaculate.

For the past few years they have given supermarket vouchers instead of cash to the value of �20, but the club has received a letter warning them they should consider stopping the practice because of fears it might be prohibited by a new act of parliament.

Derek Walker, 76, who is secretary of the bowls club, said an invoice for the hire of the green for the coming year was accompanied by the following warning from Sprowston Parish Council.

It said: 'Whilst the good intentions of some clubs to reward our staff for their work is appreciated, with the introduction of the Bribery Act 2010 it's requested that this practice ceases as it places the employee in a difficult position. I'm sure you will understand and respect this.'

Mr Walker, who has been a member of the bowls club for the past five years, said: 'I just can't believe it, it's a nonsense. It's so ridiculous its beyond belief.

'In my book bribery is an inducement made before an event and a gratuity is made after the event. If you take this literally you couldn't even tip in a restaurant.'

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Mr Walker said the grounds staff were only ever given their reward towards the end of the year long after the season, which starts in April and ends in September, had finished.

He said: 'We've always given �20 to the grounds staff every Christmas. We were requested not to give cash two to three years ago so we gave Tesco vouchers so they could buy something of their choice. They do a tremendous job - the green is one of the finest in the locality.'

Damian Humphrey, an associate at Kester Cunningham John Solicitors, which has offices in Norwich, said: 'It appears to me that Sprowston Bowls Club are being over over zealous on this.

'The purpose of the Bribery Act 2010, which hasn't yet come into force, is as a piece of anti-corruption legislation designed to stop the giving of incentives to induce improper conduct.

'In this case, first, the provision of gardening services would not amount to improper conduct and secondly, the vouchers are being given after the work has been carried out, as a thank you.'

June Hunt, clerk of Sprowston Parish Council, said: 'We're not saying we're asking them to stop the practice, but be aware of it because it puts staff in a difficult position. If people wish to single out certain members of staff it makes it difficult for those members of staff when other staff are all working equally as hard.'

She said that all staff working for the council, a local authority, have it in their contracts that they should not receive money from members of the public.

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