14 April 2010 | Nick Martindale
Senior UK civil servants are at the centre of a fresh expenses storm after racking up £1 billion on government-issued procurement cards in the past year.
Figures released by the government following a request made by the media under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that 141,000 staff used procurement cards to pay for dining out at top restaurants, £100 taxi rides and fine wines.
The total amount for 2009 was four times as much as was spent in 2002, the figures show.
Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the campaign group the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “This is a terrifying sum to be racked up on credit cards, and it’s even more sickening that the money is being spent on fancy meals. These cards should absolutely not be a bottomless pit.
“Credit cards should be used only as a last resort and the high number of people who are being given this facility opens up the possibility of it being abused.”
The procurement cards are designed to provide council chief executives, senior civil servants and quango bosses with a means of paying for expenses without having to submit receipts and then claim money back.
They are also intended to allow for greater visibility into exactly what money has been spent on with the intention of reducing unauthorised purchases. Funds are provided initially by a range of financial institutions, including JP Morgan, American Express, Royal Bank of Scotland, Co-op, Barclaycard and AirPlus International. The scheme is run by the government’s national procurement agency, Buying Solutions, which insisted the cards generated savings by “streamlining expenses”.