Spectator magazine says DAERA’s £2.8m bill was highest in the UK
A Stormont department has racked up the highest spend per employee on costs and equipment for working from home.
With a staff of 3,040, DAERA employees managed to total some £2.8m between them — the equivalent of £928 each.
The figure was revealed to The Spectator magazine, which sent a Freedom of Information request to 107 ministerial departments and government agencies.
They found that at least £33.3m has been spent on costs for home working equipment for officials between March 2020 and September 2021.
And they labelled DAERA — the Department of Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland — as the “star performers”. The Belfast Telegraph asked DAERA — which is headed by former DUP leader Edwin Poots — how they accounted for having the highest spend per employee for working from home across the UK.
We also asked them to provide a breakdown of such costs and what the spend was for, and whether they believed that the spend represented value for money.
In a statement, a spokesperson replied: “The £2.8m expenditure provided the standard IT bundle (laptop, monitor, headset, etc.) to enable staff to work productively from home.
“The majority of this expenditure is capital and the equipment has a lifespan of five years. The expenditure also included mobile devices for field staff.
“The IT equipment was purchased separately rather than having to wait for supply through the central shared service. This enabled DAERA to respond rapidly to the pandemic and meant we had 95% of our staff able to working productively and remotely within 10 weeks of the lockdown (65% of key staff within six weeks).
“If DAERA had not responded so quickly, there would have been severe consequences for food supply, animal welfare, waste management, and environmental issues.
“As other Departments waited on the central supply the costs would not have shown within Departmental budget lines, and as such direct comparisons are not possible.”
TUV leader Jim Allister agreed that it would provide reassurance on public spending if such costs were representing value for money.
He explained: “I think it’s probably hard to argue that there wouldn’t be a need for some expenditure of that sort during working from home. The question is, is it overdone? I don’t know, it’s hard to measure.
“I can understand that there would be a need for some expenditure but I’m a bit concerned that this department got so much out of kilter with others in terms of the pro rata spend and that they were purchasing outside the normal centralised and usual best value purchase system.”
The Spectator article pointed to the fact that the FoI results showed that even the Government’s spending watchdog — the Office for National Statistics — managed to spend more than £1.5m between its 5,000 or so employees.
They added: “Such largesse as the Government seeks to tighten its belt might have elicited the response from Sir Humphrey: ‘Are you sure that’s wise, minister?’
“Throughout much of 2021, ministers have been keen to get civil servants back into Whitehall. Oliver Dowden called for mandarins to ‘get off their Pelotons and back to their desks’; his fellow Tory Jake Berry has accused them of ‘woke-ing from home’.”
Drilling down into items bought in other departments and agencies, the article cast doubts on spending at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, “which stumped up £499 on eight footrests or £62 each”, pointing out that “Amazon’s best-seller, by comparison, goes for less than £40”.
They added: “Over at the Water Services Regulation Authority meanwhile, employees managed to spend £179.72 on an HDMI cable — starting from only £5.99 at the internet’s leading marketplace. Talk about splashing out.”