Government spends £18,000 on wine
Almost £18,000 has been spent topping up the Government wine cellar since the General Election, it has emerged - leading to calls that the entire collection should be sold off to raise money.
Foreign Office minister Henry Bellingham revealed that Government Hospitality, which manages the cellar, had spent £17,698 on new stock since May 6 - bringing the total value to £864,000 - though he insisted the standard practice of buying wines young saved money for the taxpayer.
But with public sector pay and pensions set to be squeezed in Tuesday's Budget as ministers seek further cuts to deal with the £155 billion deficit, Labour former Cabinet Office minister Tom Watson called on the coalition to sell off its fine wines to prove "we're all in this together".
Mr Bellingham revealed the latest purchase in a written Commons answer to West Bromwich East MP Mr Watson.
"Government Hospitality (GH) in Protocol Directorate of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has responsibility for the management of the stock in the Government wine cellar," Mr Bellingham said. "Apart from beverage wines that are bought on an ad hoc basis, GH usually buys new stock on two or three occasions each year, as advised by the GH Advisory Committee for the Purchase of Wine.
"GH buys wines young, when first available in the retail market and relatively less expensive, and stores them until they are ready to use. It purchases throughout the year according to its requirements, market rates, availability and value for money. Since May 6, 2010 Government Hospitality has spent £17,698 on new stock for the cellar.
"None of these wines has yet been used. Careful management of the Government wine cellar enables GH to provide wine for high profile events at significantly below the current market rate, making substantial savings for the taxpayer."
The minister also said a total of £80,662 had been spent on new stock in 2009-10, adding: "This was itself a reduction on the 2008-09 figure of over 30%."
Using a series of parliamentary questions and Freedom of Information requests, Mr Watson was also told that the total value of the cellar is now £864,000 and features high-profile wines from the likes of Chateau Latour, Chateau Lafite, Chateau Margaux and Chateau Mouton Rothschild.
But attempts to find out exactly what vintages are held by the Government - and served up to VIP guests at departmental banquets- were blocked on commercial sensitivity grounds.