Watchdog charges £6m on hotel, sunbeds, and fireworks

October 06, 2011 2:48 PM

Leather handbags, tattoo ink, sun beds, luxury golf courses and expensive hotels may sound like the spending of A-list celebrities, but what about that of a government watchdog? The Daily Telegraph revealed this week that the Health and Safety executive used government procurement cards to charge an astounding £6 million of extravagant expenditure over a two year period, paid for by the taxpayer.

They aren’t the only ones using such cards. According to the Telegraph, there are 141,000 Government procurement cards currently in use, costing the taxpayer approximately £1 billion pounds annually.

The Government must begin automatically publishing the bills of these cards. They are an important way of tracking how taxpayers’ money is being spent by Whitehall and quango bureaucrats. Transparency in government spending is essential if taxpayers are to properly scrutinise how their money is being spent.

Sure, a few charges here and there are to be expected, but we're not talking about office supplies or even the odd staff lunch. Many of these cards are being used by government organisations who consider expensive trips, lavish dining and unnecessary frills to be entirely acceptable items of expenditure.

After the Telegraph's accusations of excess, the Health and Safety executive responded that all of its spending was “properly incurred with no individual staff gain involved.” They claimed that purchases such as tattoo ink (£1,100), tanning beds (£1,394) and fireworks (£2,349) were used for various research projects and studies - all in the interest of keeping the public safe.

But that is not all that was charged to such Government procurement cards. A huge amount of taxpayers' money was also spent on frivolous amenities such as luxurious company away days and high street shopping.



According to the Telegraph, approximately £18,000 was spent on company away days at venues such as Edgbaston cricket ground, Aintree Racecourse and a golf and spa resort. Around £23,000 was also spent on “shopping sprees at high street and online stores including John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Clarks, Boots, Apple and Amazon”. If government watchdogs use these cards they should be exercising restraint and looking to get the most by spending the least. Buying designer leather bags from high street shops and spending thousands to stock office coffee machines do not qualify as 'thrifty' when less expensive versions would do just fine.

I mean, this watchdog spent around half a million on hotel bills across the two years alone! The HSE's spokesman claimed these costs were due to training and conferences too large to fit at their own office, however the article noted venues such as a 17th Century country house hotel complete with a Michelin star restaurant (hardly an Ibis or Holiday Inn).

Earlier this week the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, attacked such unnecessary spending through company credit cards. In his speech at the Conservative Conference, he even gave an example of how his own department’s officials blew £5,000 “to have a staff away day at a club”, complete with “showgirl sensation Amber Topaz and her exotic chum, Lady Beau Peep”.

Clearly a better definition of 'properly incurred' needs to be sought out in regards to such credit card spending. These charges are simply unreasonable, and such spending should be reduced through a focus on efficiency and justification. More so, if government credit card bills were made regularly available to the public, government organisations would have to think twice before treating themselves to fancy away days with burlesque dancers and luxury golf courses.Leather handbags, tattoo ink, sun beds, luxury golf courses and expensive hotels may sound like the spending of A-list celebrities, but what about that of a government watchdog? The Daily Telegraph revealed this week that the Health and Safety executive used government procurement cards to charge an astounding £6 million of extravagant expenditure over a two year period, paid for by the taxpayer.

They aren’t the only ones using such cards. According to the Telegraph, there are 141,000 Government procurement cards currently in use, costing the taxpayer approximately £1 billion pounds annually.

The Government must begin automatically publishing the bills of these cards. They are an important way of tracking how taxpayers’ money is being spent by Whitehall and quango bureaucrats. Transparency in government spending is essential if taxpayers are to properly scrutinise how their money is being spent.

Sure, a few charges here and there are to be expected, but we're not talking about office supplies or even the odd staff lunch. Many of these cards are being used by government organisations who consider expensive trips, lavish dining and unnecessary frills to be entirely acceptable items of expenditure.

After the Telegraph's accusations of excess, the Health and Safety executive responded that all of its spending was “properly incurred with no individual staff gain involved.” They claimed that purchases such as tattoo ink (£1,100), tanning beds (£1,394) and fireworks (£2,349) were used for various research projects and studies - all in the interest of keeping the public safe.

But that is not all that was charged to such Government procurement cards. A huge amount of taxpayers' money was also spent on frivolous amenities such as luxurious company away days and high street shopping.



According to the Telegraph, approximately £18,000 was spent on company away days at venues such as Edgbaston cricket ground, Aintree Racecourse and a golf and spa resort. Around £23,000 was also spent on “shopping sprees at high street and online stores including John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Clarks, Boots, Apple and Amazon”. If government watchdogs use these cards they should be exercising restraint and looking to get the most by spending the least. Buying designer leather bags from high street shops and spending thousands to stock office coffee machines do not qualify as 'thrifty' when less expensive versions would do just fine.

I mean, this watchdog spent around half a million on hotel bills across the two years alone! The HSE's spokesman claimed these costs were due to training and conferences too large to fit at their own office, however the article noted venues such as a 17th Century country house hotel complete with a Michelin star restaurant (hardly an Ibis or Holiday Inn).

Earlier this week the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, attacked such unnecessary spending through company credit cards. In his speech at the Conservative Conference, he even gave an example of how his own department’s officials blew £5,000 “to have a staff away day at a club”, complete with “showgirl sensation Amber Topaz and her exotic chum, Lady Beau Peep”.

Clearly a better definition of 'properly incurred' needs to be sought out in regards to such credit card spending. These charges are simply unreasonable, and such spending should be reduced through a focus on efficiency and justification. More so, if government credit card bills were made regularly available to the public, government organisations would have to think twice before treating themselves to fancy away days with burlesque dancers and luxury golf courses.

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