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Cash-strapped education department splashes over £1m on travel

There was outrage yesterday after it was revealed the Department of Education has spent more than £1m on travel claims in the past three years.

Politicians on Stormont’s Education Committee have slammed the costs and called for an immediate review of payouts.

During the last financial year, the cash-strapped department forked out £496,734.79 for staff travel including flights and mileage reimbursements.

The largest sum was claimed during 2008-09 when a bill of £502,883 was racked up while figures for 2007-08 totalled £438,215.92.

Despite criticism, the department has refused to say whether it believed such sums are justified given the state of the economy.

“The expenditure quoted covers all aspects of travel costs including all modes of travel, subsistence and accommodation costs, and excess fares,” the department said in a statement.

It added: “Only costs which are properly incurred can be reimbursed.

“Claims are authorised by a more senior member of staff. Staff are conscious of the need to reduce expenditure in all budgets, including travel and subsistence, and only essential expenses are incurred.”

In July the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the Department of Education had generated a taxi bill of £1,686.50 in just one year.

Earlier this year Education Minister warned that the education budget was facing extreme pressure — a staggering £52m from the 2010-11 budget and £22m on capital investment.

Alex Easton, who tabled a written question for the details of travel claims, said he felt “deep concern” at the spending.

“It is a colossal amount,” the DUP MLA said. “I have been trying to find out what is being spent on travel claims for all the departments and am waiting to hear from the Health Department.

“In this current economic climate we are looking for ways to save money and I think that travel costs could be something that could be looked at carefully.

“I intend to delve into the issue more deeply to see where exactly savings could be made.

“I understand that in certain circumstances travel is necessary but we could perhaps look at reducing the amount that is given per mile.”

Meanwhile, Mervyn Storey, chairman of the Education Committee, said: “This is an issue that the minister needs to pay careful attention to. Every element of expenditure has to be looked at.

“This is a poor reflection on how the minister has run her department.”

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