Belfast Telegraph

Stormont staff banned from calling Speaking Clock after racking up £2.7k phone bill

By Claire Williamson

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has barred Stormont staff from making calls to the Speaking Clock.

In an Assembly question,  Sinn Fein MLA Phil Flanagan asked the DUP MLA to detail the cost of calls to the Speaking Clock from land-line telephones from all departments in each of the last five financial years.

In response Mr Hamilton produced a table including expenditure by the Northern Ireland Assembly as well as Northern Ireland government departments.

A breakdown of the figures showed that in the year 2013/2014 a total of £2,714 was spent on calls to the speaking clock.

That was up on the year 2012/2013 which came to a total of £2,336.

Before that it was slightly less in 2011/12 at a total of £1,355 and in the year 2010/11 it was £1,327.

Mr Hamilton said "on the basis of knowledge of previous expenditure, I decided at the end of 2013/14 to bar calls to the speaking clock across all departments".

In a separate question Mr Flanagan also asked for details of the cost of calls to directory enquiries from land-line telephones from all Departments in each of the last five financial years.

In the year 2013/14 it came to a total of £15,591, a significant increase on the year previous which was £12,697.

In his answer Mr Hamilton said: "On the basis of knowledge of expenditure, I decided at the end of 2013/14 to ensure that directory enquiry calls should only use best value for money providers.

"The implementation of my decision has already impacted on the cost of using directory enquiries - expenditure for the first six months of the 2014/15 financial year is £2,567."

Mr Flanagan said he was motivated to find out how much civil servants were spending ringing both directory enquiries and the talking clock.

He said: "In this day and age there is no need for them to be doing it, as most civil servants are sitting in front of a computer which has the time in the bottom of the screen and would have easy access to directory enquiry numbers online.

"It's a significant sum of money. It definitely demonstrates that there is a waste there and it's only right and proper that the Minister has barred calls to the Speaking Clock across all departments.

"It is a waste of money and it's no longer justifiable in this day and age."

He continued: "There is money being wasted everywhere within the system and the problem is some people are just keen to deal with staff by cutting their pay or redundancies, where if they actually went in and looked at the system in a detailed manner you would find easy ways to make financial savings without maybe the need to get rid of so many staff or

"There is no justification for phoning the talking clock and the figures I got back on the directory enquiries were equally outrageous," he added.

A DFP spokesperson said: “When the Minister became aware of this expenditure at the end of 2013/14, he deemed it to be unacceptable and barred calls to the speaking clock across all departments from that time.”

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