BT brings down the curtain on executives' night at the Opera

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The Independent Online

An invitation to see Jose Carreras, one of the world's great tenors, perform live would normally be snapped up by any self-respecting company manager willing to submit themselves to the corporate hospitality gravy train.

An invitation to see Jose Carreras, one of the world's great tenors, perform live would normally be snapped up by any self-respecting company manager willing to submit themselves to the corporate hospitality gravy train.

But not, it seems, if you happen to work for BT Group. The telecoms giant has instigated a new hair-shirt attitude to life and such an offer, or "inducement" as the company now calls corporate freebies, must be turned down.

The invite to the opera was extended to a group of senior BT managers by Marconi before Christmas. But BT happens to be in the closing stages of deciding which suppliers, including Marconi, will get a slice of the £10bn it is about to spend on upgrading its main network.

The sensitivities of the contract, and its sheer scale, mean BT has stopped its people from accepting anything that might possibly compromise its position.

"We have certainly been extra vigilant across the business in the run up to this contract. As you can appreciate it's very sensitive for us. We have to be absolutely squeaky clean," a BT spokesman said.

Marconi's invitation is typical of the sort of corporate hospitality regularly organised by most companies designed to cement relations between key personnel. But BT's website makes its Puritan streak plain. "We will not offer or accept gifts, hospitality or other inducements which encourage or reward a decision," BT's business principles state.

BT is not alone in introducing stricter rules governing corporate hospitality, a market said to be worth £800m-a-year.

BP, the oil giant, will roll out a new code of conduct this year and has introduced a freebies register. Gifts worth more than $50 must be authorised by a BP line manager and anything over $250 must be authorised by a group vice president. Corporate hospitality up to $500 can be accepted before permission is needed while business meals of more than $150 must be cleared.

Diageo says it discourages acceptance of gifts and says freebies over £250 in any 12 month period must be disclosed. This, however, excludes "reasonable business entertainment".

Vodafone says that its staff should not accept gifts from anyone with a business connection to the company of more than 80 euros. In exceptional circumstances gifts of more than that can be accepted but then surrendered to the company. In terms of entertainment, hospitality worth more than 480 euros has to be approved.

So gone are the days of unfettered excess but there still seems room to enjoy the perks of modern management.

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