More quango waste on GPCs

September 01, 2011 11:30 AM

There has been further controversy regarding Government Procurement Cards (GPCs) this week. They were used regularly at the Electoral Commission to buy food for the office staff, with days titled ‘fruity Fridays’ and ‘munchy Mondays’. Additionally, they spent almost £60 on pedometers for ‘walking Wednesday’, when workers were encouraged not to take other forms of transport. While employees may have enjoyed indulging in munchies one day and then being asked to walk them off a few days later, taxpayers shouldn’t have paid for this.

The Electoral Commission also spent £3,370 on an ‘integrity meeting’ with police officers at a four-star hotel – which is less than 100 yards away from Scotland Yard. Couldn’t the Met have housed the meeting somewhere in their offices? Or why couldn’t the Electoral Commission have housed staff from the Met? Either way, they should have worked harder to prevent taxpayers’ cash being spent so profligately.

Some of the smaller-value items billed at the taxpayers’ expense were done so in plain bad taste too. For example, upon a staff member’s retirement, their colleagues even charged the £2.85 cost of a retirement card to the public purse – members of staff didn’t even want to pay for a colleague’s card themselves, and preferred having taxpayers buy it for them.

And it’s perhaps this last item that sums up a lot of what’s wrong with GPCs. They are supposed to be more efficient than staff using their own money to pay for items which are then expensed at the end of the month. But a similar kind of caution as the old system – from the card user and the payroll department – must be applied with GPCs. At present, there isn’t an appropriate attitude to match the responsibility of having taxpayers’ cash so readily to hand. Other examples abound, like when the TPA uncovered GPC use by Government Departments and also exposed GPC abuse at the Equality and Human Rights Commission. There must be a wholesale culture change to how staff use GPCs, before more taxpayers' money is unnecessarily squandered.

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