East Kent is full of examples of questionable expenditure at the moment. Not just government and local government, but other public bodies, not all quite as accountable.
Globe trotting Kent University staff have enjoyed trips to exotic locations such as New Delhi, Shanghai, Las Vegas and Rio De Janeiro. Credit card statements for June obtained by the Kentish Gazette show more than £900 was spent on just the New Delhi Hotel and another £729 in Mumbai; £740 in Beijing and Shanghai, and £280 on Croatia’s coast. Other entries include £639 spent at the Istanbul Hilton, over £1,500 in Washington DC; £762 in Rio De Janeiro, and £668 in Dubai. December last year also saw almost £900 at restaurants and hotels on The Strip in Las Vegas. The university defended use of corporate credit cards in recruiting students from 120 countries after being forced to reveal details when the newspaper submitted a Freedom of Information request.
Elsewhere the documents revealed over £1,100 spent on flights to Brussels and Atlanta, and £700 at a London hotel. Also present were charges for flower delivery, payments to Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre and local hotels – Canterbury restaurants featured frequently – and Pizza Express. A university credit card was used to buy wine worth £494 from Majestic. The university refused to divulge which of its staff use the cards. They say use ID strictly governed and audited. The maximum daily spend per card is £250. Some small purchases included shops like Wilkinson, Starbucks and Currys, plus £145 for a TV licence. One transaction was for 69p to the Apple iTunes store.
In total, more than £270,000 was spent on Kent University’s hospitality cards between August 2009 and July 2013 on “wining and dining”. Nobody doubts the necessity to travel for the gaining of lucrative foreign students, but the question has to be asked: do these figures represent a good example at a time when students are running up debts?
It’s not just Kent University that has been racking up bills on credit cards, Kent Police have spent £309,000 since January 2012. They spent over £110,000 on hotels and flights and £21,341 on police staff meals. They also used them to buy books and magazines worth £2,454.
Staff at East Kent Hospitals Trust have been at it too, spending £89,701 on travel and hotels in the same period. However, much spending by police and the hospital trust’s corporate credit cards has been on everyday items like stationery and equipment. The Kent Fire and Rescue Service spent £119,000 on its corporate credit cards, almost all of it on things like parking, training courses and food. Around 80 per cet of spending on another card was for driving courses for staff.
Procurement cards can certainly be an efficient way of paying necessary bills, but that spending must be appropriate, controlled and transparent. One thing is certain from all this. Our public servants are still freely spending our money and not always too anxious to reveal the details.