Whitehall procurement cards serve a purpose but oversight is patchy

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Nestled inside a shaded courtyard, Plataran in south Jakarta provides diners the promise of genuine Indonesian meals “with the ambiance of Javanese royalty”. 5 miles to the north, Kaum provides friends a style of tribal Indonesian cooking with fashionable inflections.

Collectively, these are two of the town’s best eating places, and they’re the place Liz Truss and her group decamped, first for lunch after which for dinner, throughout a whistle-stop journey to the Indonesian capital in 2021. The 2 meals price the taxpayer £1,443 – all paid for conveniently by handing over one of many hundreds of presidency procurement playing cards (GPCs) that officers can use to pay for something underneath £20,000.

Simply over a decade in the past, the Conservatives highlighted the quantity of wasteful spending carried out on these playing cards, with David Cameron calling it “hideous” when he was operating for election in 2010.

Nevertheless, a Labour evaluation revealed on Monday exhibits that the usage of them since then has elevated. Since 2010-11, the quantity spent on GPCs by 14 of the primary 15 central authorities departments has risen by about 70% to £146m, the Labour figures present. The one division not analysed was the Ministry of Defence, a heavy consumer of the playing cards however the information from which contained inconsistencies.

A lot of that cash has been spent on the day-to-day objects wanted to run a authorities division, akin to workplace stationery, furnishings and coaching programs. The federal government likes utilizing such playing cards as a result of it could actually scale back forms and transaction prices, and ensure suppliers receives a commission on time.

In 2020, the Cupboard Workplace told departments to extend spending limits in order that people might pay for objects price as much as £20,000 on the playing cards, with a month-to-month restrict of £100,000. That steering was supposed to ensure small suppliers continued to commerce via the pandemic, however has not been subsequently rescinded.

Oversight of what’s purchased with the playing cards is patchy, nonetheless, and guidelines range from division to division on how the cash can be utilized.

Some departments, for instance, ban workers from utilizing the playing cards to purchase alcohol. However, the Overseas Workplace, the place officers are anticipated to entertain overseas dignitaries, spends tons of of hundreds of kilos a 12 months on beer, wine and spirits in places world wide.

Accounting additionally varies vastly round Whitehall. 9 departments present no particular description of what has been purchased or why, however others, such because the Division for Surroundings, Meals and Rural Affairs, give the date, price, provider and detailed cause for every transaction. So, if a voter desires to understand how the division welcomed again 250 workers to the workplace in Workington, Cumbria, in July 2022, they can find out that it spent £779 on muffins from Sainsbury’s.

The info sheds a light-weight on the lengths some departments go to hold out corporate-style rebranding. The Environment Agency, for instance, spent £3,482 on branded hi-vis jackets and one other £2,450 on branded hand sanitiser. In the meantime, UK Visas and Immigration spent £968 on vacuum-insulated cups within the company’s company color of purple.

All through the information, although, it’s the Overseas Workplace that stands out as some of the liberal customers of GPCs, spending hundreds of thousands of kilos on meals, wine, motels, catering, presents and furnishings for workplaces and residences.

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The motels usually have 5 stars, and the eating places, awards from the Michelin information. Items come from Royal Crown Derby and Fortnum & Mason. Wines come from high-end English producers akin to Ridgeview Property and Chapel Down.

However requirements will not be at all times so excessive, relying on who’s being catered for.

When workers from Border Power have been deployed to Glasgow airport final 12 months to assist handle the variety of delegates turning up for the Cop26 local weather summit, they got £609-worth of sandwiches from Pret a Manger. And when officers from the identical company needed to work in Dover on Christmas Day in 2021, they got permission to make use of a procurement card to purchase a Christmas meal on the native Vacation Inn for about £30 every.

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