Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Councils in £150m credit cards bill

Figures show councils spent nearly 150 million pounds on credit cards over the past five years

Councils spent nearly £150 million on credit cards in the last five years, new figures have revealed.

Payments range from hotel stays to skateboards, and include more than £1,000 for the rights to screen movie musical Grease. A machine to repel dangerous dogs was also among the items bought on council credit cards, according to figures obtained by the Conservative Party.

Half of Scotland's councils did not detail exactly what the cash was spent on. Aberdeenshire Council spent £1,100 for the rights to show Grease and £500 on a "safer sex box" while Argyll and Bute spent £700 in restaurant Planet Hollywood.

Other examples from the past two years include East Ayrshire spending £100 on a Santa suit, £500 on skateboards, £30 on a "dog dazer", £400 on glowstick necklaces and a similar amount on two deluxe hairdryers.

Also included in the breakdown was East Lothian Council spending £900 at Walt Disney Theatrical in London and Moray Council spending £2,000 on theatre tickets. Among the smaller items revealed were £15 on the Guinness Book of World Records for Midlothian Council and a £35 investment from Fife Council trialling Facebook adverts.

Shetland spent hundreds on "clothing allowances" while West Dunbartonshire revealed it had hundreds of pounds that were "unexplained". Fife Council's transactions showed thousands of pounds worth of unidentified cash withdrawals from high street banks.

Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: "Budgets are extremely tight just now and we cannot have seemingly nonsensical spending on meaningless items such as glowstick necklaces and deluxe hairdryers. Everything should be justified at some level, otherwise the public will lose trust with how their cash is being spent."

David O'Neill, president of council umbrella body Cosla, said: "I do not see the point the Conservatives are trying to make here about the use of credit cards. Obviously, decisions on spend and budget decisions are a matter for individual local authorities ... so I cannot say anything on this.

"However, what I can say about the use of credit cards is that there is nothing wrong with the use of them as a vehicle for making approved and appropriate purchases. They are well-controlled, have a superb audit trail and offer a range of things that other methods of payment don't, such as security controls.

"In the modern world we inhabit today credit cards are a well-used and well-trusted form of payment."

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