Q travel: with BAR­RIE MA­HONEY

‘Twit­ters from the At­lantic'

Q Magazine - - Q Travel -

Bar­rie Ma­honey was a head teacher and school in­spec­tor in the UK, as well as a re­porter in Spain, be­fore mov­ing to the Ca­nary Is­lands to launch and edit a new English lan­guage news­pa­per. He en­joys life in the sun as a colum­nist and au­thor, and con­tin­ues to write a series of pop­u­lar nov­els and books for ex­pats.

There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch I winced when I read an ac­count of a re­cent Gar­den Party hosted by the British Am­bas­sador to Spain at his res­i­dence in Madrid in hon­our of the Queen's birth­day. The party was spon­sored by a health in­surer, an oil com­pany, sev­eral banks, an ac­coun­tancy firm and a com­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pany to name just a few. Prod­ucts con­sumed at the party were supplied by a maker of pink gin, an ice cream man­u­fac­turer, a health in­surer, an oil com­pany, a restau­rant chain, a pro­ducer of tonic wa­ter, fish from a North­ern Ire­land co­op­er­a­tive, a meat pro­ces­sor and a brew­ery. It made me won­der if the British Gov­ern­ment (the tax­payer) had ac­tu­ally paid for any­thing; some will say that this is the point.

We are told that times are hard and the ef­fects of the re­ces­sion are still with us, but have you no­ticed that there al­ways seems to be enough money around for those pres­tige projects? Then, of course, there is that “Brexit div­i­dend” that we all keep hear­ing about; surely that would have eas­ily have paid for a glass of cava and a cu­cum­ber sand­wich with­out go­ing ‘cap in hand' to a range of British and Span­ish busi­nesses? Yes, I am fully aware of the ar­gu­ment that such events “show­case British drive and in­ge­nu­ity” at a time when the UK needs to demon­strate to the world that, de­spite Brexit, it is still open for busi­ness, but is this re­ally the way to do it?

I am con­cerned about the grow­ing spon­sor­ship deals by com­mer­cial com­pa­nies in­trud­ing into what should be the busi­ness of the state. Surely, we all know that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Ev­ery­thing comes with a price tag and pur­pose, al­beit of­ten hid­den. By ac­cept­ing spon­sor­ship of such events there is an as­sump­tion that the prod­ucts and ser­vices pro­vided by a com­pany are en­dorsed and rec­om­mended by gov­ern­ment and its agen­cies at the ex­pense of others, which should not be the case.

Many years ago, I worked briefly as a civil ser­vant, and it was al­ways made very clear that any in­ter­ac­tion be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the com­mer­cial sec­tor should be at arm's length to avoid be­ing seen as bias in favour of one com­pany at the ex­pense of an­other. Over the years, we have seen con­sid­er­able ero­sion of such lofty prin­ci­ples, with blur­ring and, in­deed, merg­ing of com­mer­cial and gov­ern­ment busi­ness.

A few days ago, the British Con­sulate asked if I could help to pub­li­cise an event for ex­pats on the is­land. Os­ten­si­bly, it was to be about Brexit, which I am sure would be very help­ful for those ex­pats who have not yet left the is­land in a bid to es­cape the sum­mer heat. It was only when I checked on Face­book, that I no­ticed that it was to be spon­sored by a cur­rency ex­change com­pany, al­beit with a free drink and tapas. I re­alised that, once again, such spon­sor­ship is po­ten­tially more about pro­mot­ing the com­mer­cial ac­tiv­i­ties of a busi­ness, rather than un­bi­ased in­for­ma­tion for ex­pats. I am aware of sim­i­lar events for ex­pats spon­sored by a group of fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sors; there is prob­a­bly a chain of fish and chip restau­rants and an on­line book­ies al­ready lined up to spon­sor fu­ture events.

By al­low­ing a pri­vate com­pany to ad­ver­tise and pro­mote an event un­der the aus­pices of the British Con­sul, there is an im­pli­ca­tion that the UK Gov­ern­ment en­dorses their ser­vices. The cur­rency ex­change com­pany is prob­a­bly staffed by per­fectly splen­did and hon­ourable peo­ple with lofty com­pany ideals, al­though I note that their ex­change rates are nowhere near as ad­van­ta­geous as those that I cur­rently get from two ri­val com­pa­nies, who I guess were not asked to spon­sor this event. As they say, there is no such thing as free tapas, which is prob­a­bly the rea­son why their ex­change rate is not as good as it could be.

No doubt my cyn­i­cism will be re­warded with a sharp ex­change of views jus­ti­fy­ing com­mer­cial spon­sor­ship of the event on the grounds of the shrink­ing size of For­eign Of­fice cof­fers. De­spite this, I know that I am not alone in be­ing con­cerned about the blur­ring of com­mer­cial in­ter­ests and the pub­lic good. I can only imag­ine what my su­pe­ri­ors in the civil ser­vice de­part­ment that I worked for would have to say about that.

I have con­sid­er­able admiration for the work of the For­eign Of­fice, its em­bassies and con­sulates in its pro­tec­tion, ad­vice and sup­port for UK trav­ellers, busi­nesses and ex­pats around the world. Much of its pro­fes­sion­al­ism has been based upon im­par­tial­ity, and an in­sis­tence upon be­ing seen to do the right thing. Might I sug­gest a move away from free­bies pro­vided by com­mer­cial com­pa­nies and in­stead to con­tinue to fo­cus with in­tegrity upon pro­vid­ing un­bi­ased ad­vice and sup­port to UK ci­ti­zens and busi­nesses dur­ing this dis­turb­ing pe­riod of Brexit fudge. The im­plied en­dorse­ment of a par­tic­u­lar com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity is not the busi­ness of gov­ern­ment and is cer­tainly not the busi­ness of the For­eign Of­fice and its con­sular ser­vices.

If you en­joyed this ar­ti­cle, take a look at my web­sites: http://bar­riema­honey.com and http://theca­nary­is­lander.com or read my lat­est book, ‘Liv­ing in Spain and the Ca­nary Is­lands’ (ISBN: 9780995602724). Avail­able in pa­per­back, as well as Kin­dle edi­tions. Join me on Face­book: www.face­book.com/bar­rie.ma­honey

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.