Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

£25m credit card bill faces curbs

Civil servants could face tighter curbs on Government credit card spending
Civil servants could face tighter curbs on Government credit card spending

Civil servants could face tighter curbs on how they use Government credit cards as new figures showed they spent more than £25 million on them last year alone.

Despite efforts to slash spending across public services - the items purchased included controversial "luxuries", answers to freedom of information requests showed.

The Daily Telegraph, which compiled returns from 18 Whitehall departments, said they included opulent hotels, snowmobiles and courses on how to make truffles.

The research also found that six civil servants had been fired and one convicted over a total of £10,000 of fraudulent payments on the cards.

A system of "procurement cards" was introduced to cut down on administration costs by allowing civil servants to buy small items for work without having to claim them back on expenses.

But Labour say many of the purchases appear "questionable" at a time of budgets being severely squeezed and a recent independent review found the card system was not properly controlled. One entry was for £2,403.50 paid by a Department of Health official to The Chocolate Tart - which the newspaper said was for a course on how to hand-roll cream truffles.

Almost £3 million went on travel - including five-star hotels in Mexico, Indonesia and Dubai and £370,000 on food - some of which was spent in top London eateries. Golfing trips, theatre tickets, football matches and cookery classes were also said to have been included - as well as tens of thousands of pounds on gifts for staff.

Matthew Sinclair, director of the TaxPayers' Alliance which campaigns for lower taxes and helped compile the figures, said spending was "out of hand". And he complained that four Departments had refused to release details and eight of those that did withheld details of individual items.

Retail tycoon Sir Philip Green made a series of criticisms of the operation of the card system in his review of procurement efficiency for the Government last year.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "The Coalition Government has already taken action to reduce overall spending and cut waste and will continue to do so. It will not allow taxpayers' money to be wasted and will not tolerate any misuse of these cards."

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