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Conflicts of interest

July 2015

Within any Big Local partnership there may be some conflicts of interest. This is because some of you are active in your communities and involved in a range of groups; some of you have your own business, or work for a local one, or have family members who do; and some of you have lived in the area for a long time and have deep connections, networks and histories.

These connections are a good thing and we don’t expect Big Local partnerships to be free from conflicts of interest. But we do expect you to have a process to enable you to identify potential conflicts of interest and manage them openly and fairly.

What is a conflict of interest?

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A conflict of interest is a situation in which your personal interests or loyalties might influence your decision-making.

There are three main reasons why someone involved in Big Local might have a conflict of interest: 

  • You might get a financial benefit - for example, if you work for a local organisation or business that receives Big Local money to deliver activities or services, or owns a meeting space that you pay to use.
  • You might get an indirect financial benefit - for example, if a close relative or friend is employed by an organisation that receives Big Local money, or is doing work paid for with Big Local money.
  • Your loyalty to Big Local might conflict with your loyalty to another group or organisation. This might be because you are a member or trustee of, or have links with, an organisation or group outside Big Local. Although you yourself may not gain any financial benefit, your decision-making could be influenced by your other interests.

If you are conflicted

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It is important to recognise that conflicts of interest will occur. As a Big Local partnership you should agree how to manage these, while being able to make good decisions within your rules as a partnership. Putting something in writing and working to what you have agreed can help identify conflicts of interest at the earliest possible stage and put in place a clear process to follow.

When conflicts of interest are not managed, it can result in decisions that are not made fairly and actions that are not in the best interests of Big Local or the area. This could damage both Big Local's and the partnership’s reputations and might mean that a decision is open to challenge.

How to manage conflicts of interest

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1. Identify and declare the conflict of interest
We expect all members of the partnership to be open with each other and the wider community, which means declaring conflicts of interest and being aware of situations in which you are conflicted.

2. Manage the conflict of interest
Follow the rules that your partnership has agreed. In most cases conflicts of interest can be dealt with if the person involved declares his or her interest at the earliest possible opportunity and withdraws from the discussion and decision-making.

3. Record the conflict of interest
Keep a record of each conflict of interest and how it was managed. This might include an outline of the discussion, who it related to, whether the conflict of interest was declared, and whether anyone withdrew from the discussion and decision-making.

Problems might arise when a number of people have a conflict of interest related to the same thing. If this means there aren't enough members of the partnership for an unbiased discussion or decision, you could seek other views before making a decision.

Openness and transparency

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We encourage Big Local partnerships to be as open and transparent as possible. Some Big Local partnerships have a register for their permanent interests that are available to the public on their website.

Even if the partnership is open and follows good practice on conflicts of interest, people outside it may have different perceptions - in particular, about how Big Local funding is used at different stages - and may make judgements about it with no real basis. 

We find that the best way to prevent these types of concerns is to communicate openly and transparently about what you are doing and how much it costs, and why.

Code of conduct – managing conflicts of interest

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We recommend that Big Local partnerships agree and use a code of conduct. This is a set of rules that you draw up and agree as a group that outline the expectations and responsibilities of partnership members and the partnership as a whole. You could include how you manage conflicts of interest in your code of conduct, or you can create something separate. Either way, it is good practice to have it written down and available to others.

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