Legal: New corporate card policies

A labyrinth of departmental policies, guidelines and directives exist to police the use of corporate cards in Queensland state schools. However, we recently became aware of a new policy, two guidelines and a procedure from the department covering this area.

The new documents attempt to clarify the guidelines, at least in relation to some areas.

Appropriate and ethical use of public resources policy

This ensures that all officers are accountable for the departmental resources they use and that use is “publicly defensible and clearly provides improved outcomes for the department’s customers or the state as a whole”.

The policy points towards the Treasurer's Guidelines for the use of the Queensland Government Corporate Purchasing Card and identifies six principles.

  1. Resources must be used for official purposes.
  2. Expenditure must represent the best use of public resources to achieve the desired objective.
  3. Procurement policies and practices must be followed.
  4. Expenditure must be properly authorised, and provide an audit trail of that authorisation.
  5. An officer must not authorise expenditure that provides, or could be perceived to provide, personal benefit to him/herself, or where there is a conflict of interest.
  6. Use of public resources must be publicly defensible.

Guidelines for the appropriate and ethical use of public resources

This deals with such things as the appropriateness of using departmental resources for things like boosting staff morale, marking a special occasion or offering commiserations.
Public resources cannot explicitly be used for things like flowers, gift cards, gifts or decorations, gym memberships or massages for staff.

When traveling, cards must not be used for in-room movies, personal toiletries, luggage or taxis for personal use, and must not be used for extra accommodation or airfare costs if you decide to extend your stay for personal reasons.

Do not put these types of expenses on the card with the intention of repaying them later. That is not permitted.

Catering and hospitality procedure

This provides guidance about when catering and hospitality is and isn’t appropriate.

Only provide official hospitality, including catering, where it is considered essential. Catering must be commensurate with the circumstances of the meeting, function or event, and card users should gain approval from the appropriate delegate – which is your regional office – for all expenses.

When determining what, if any, catering is appropriate, consider the following.

  • Attendees - if only departmental staff, keep catering to a minimum. 
  • Purpose - will providing catering support the objective of the event, such as building community goodwill? 
  • Duration - the longer the duration, the more appropriate it may be to provide refreshments in order to maintain attendees’ energy levels and attention spans. 
  • Timing - where events are held over normal mealtimes, it may be appropriate to offer catering, as participants will not otherwise have meals. It may also be appropriate where participants are volunteering time outside of normal working hours. 
  • Location - where attendees do not have access to normal facilities, it may be appropriate to provide catering. Do not choose offsite venues or meetings which would ordinarily be conducted in the workplace.

NB. Card holders should only purchase alcoholic beverages with the express permission of their regional office. We recommend no alcohol purchases without written authority from the region.

Catering guidelines

This guideline provides a “non-exhaustive” list of scenarios and a yes or no answer to whether the provision of “tea/ coffee/ juice/ light refreshments” is appropriate and/or whether a light meal can be provided.

These four new documents are clearly an attempt to draw the many rules and regulations in this area together into a more sensible and understandable shape. This can only be a good thing, but our advice to members who are unsure continues to be, get permission and get it in writing.

Changing school expenditure

While these guidelines remain in place, schools must not purchase flowers or other gifts in recognition of special staff commitment or tragedy (eg, do not buy flowers for the coordinators of awards nights, musical etc). 

Schools should discuss how end of year events will be funded, and the likely personal contributions required from staff. 

Schools are encouraged to consider alternative methods of recognising special staff commitment, such as presentation of certificates. 

Any spending outside of the guidelines must be approved by your regional office.  While these guidelines are new, take advantage of the opportunity to engage with your regional office to ensure your spending does not fall outside of policy. 

Ask permission until you are sure of what is permitted and prohibited.

Edmund Burke                                                                                                                    Holding Redlich Lawyers

Editor's note: The Queensland Teachers’ Union does not agree with aspects of these guidelines and will be advocating strongly for changes. In the meantime, school leaders should stay informed of the policy changes and abide by them to avoid unnecessary risks While the QTU provides an excellent legal assistance scheme, it is far better for members’ health and wellbeing if they don’t have to access that assistance in the first place.. A specific booklet on principals and the law is being prepared by the QTU and Holding Redlich for publication later this year.

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 122 No 7, 6 October 2017, p27