Who watches the watchmen? Government credit card agency in its own waste scandal

December 05, 2011 3:32 PM

Who watches the watchmen? Taxpayers will be demanding answers after it was revealed that the very agency charged with delivering ‘significant sustainable cost reductions’ in public sector procurement has splurged £1.7million of taxpayers' money in nightclubs, five star hotels and on trips to New York.

The Government Procurement Service (GPS) manages a vast scheme of government procurement cards (GPCs), some 133,000 of which have been issued since 1997. Civil servants in departments, agencies and quangos can use these cards to make purchases on behalf of government. In theory, it is a ‘fast and efficient way of purchasing different types of goods and services’, speeding up transactions and ensuring prompt payment to the businesses that supply these services.  Spending on credit cards has got way out of hand.  We need more transparency and accountability and fewer civil servants running up extravagant bills and leaving them to taxpayers. Civil servants have legitimate expenses, but there is no excuse for some of the lavish spending that has been uncovered .

The TaxPayers’ Alliance has attacked wasteful GPC spending many times before:

  • In November this year we revealed the £185,000 credit-card spend at the Sustainable Development Commission between April 2009 and March 2011 – including £10,000 on air travel, and £14,000 in 4-star hotels.

  • In August, we exposed the £20,000 put on government credit cards by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in payments to political parties.

  • In June, we condemned the £25m spent by 18 Whitehall departments, including £60,000 dining at exclusive restaurants.


Today’s news is a stark reminder of how deeply a culture of profligacy can take root. Taxpayers must have trust that there are controls in place to prevent unauthorised and wasteful spending. So when those who should be strict financial guardians indulge their personal fantasies at Newz nightclub in Liverpool (popular with Cheryl Cole) or spend £6,000 in New York hotels, it’s clear that the problem is systemic and won’t be solved by shuffling around personnel.

It’s good news that the Government has begun publishing all spending on GPCs over £500. But £500 is an arbitrary figure and taxpayers clearly can’t trust government watchdogs to be stringent and critical on sums beneath this level. Government should publish GPC and credit card statements in full (personal details redacted, of course) so taxpayers can judge for themselves what is necessary and what is wasteful.Who watches the watchmen? Taxpayers will be demanding answers after it was revealed that the very agency charged with delivering ‘significant sustainable cost reductions’ in public sector procurement has splurged £1.7million of taxpayers' money in nightclubs, five star hotels and on trips to New York.

The Government Procurement Service (GPS) manages a vast scheme of government procurement cards (GPCs), some 133,000 of which have been issued since 1997. Civil servants in departments, agencies and quangos can use these cards to make purchases on behalf of government. In theory, it is a ‘fast and efficient way of purchasing different types of goods and services’, speeding up transactions and ensuring prompt payment to the businesses that supply these services.  Spending on credit cards has got way out of hand.  We need more transparency and accountability and fewer civil servants running up extravagant bills and leaving them to taxpayers. Civil servants have legitimate expenses, but there is no excuse for some of the lavish spending that has been uncovered .

The TaxPayers’ Alliance has attacked wasteful GPC spending many times before:

  • In November this year we revealed the £185,000 credit-card spend at the Sustainable Development Commission between April 2009 and March 2011 – including £10,000 on air travel, and £14,000 in 4-star hotels.

  • In August, we exposed the £20,000 put on government credit cards by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in payments to political parties.

  • In June, we condemned the £25m spent by 18 Whitehall departments, including £60,000 dining at exclusive restaurants.


Today’s news is a stark reminder of how deeply a culture of profligacy can take root. Taxpayers must have trust that there are controls in place to prevent unauthorised and wasteful spending. So when those who should be strict financial guardians indulge their personal fantasies at Newz nightclub in Liverpool (popular with Cheryl Cole) or spend £6,000 in New York hotels, it’s clear that the problem is systemic and won’t be solved by shuffling around personnel.

It’s good news that the Government has begun publishing all spending on GPCs over £500. But £500 is an arbitrary figure and taxpayers clearly can’t trust government watchdogs to be stringent and critical on sums beneath this level. Government should publish GPC and credit card statements in full (personal details redacted, of course) so taxpayers can judge for themselves what is necessary and what is wasteful.

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