Whitehall files show how public money is spent

£170,000 mineral water bill at HM Revenue & Customs revealed in first ever breakdown
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The Independent Online

The Home Office is spending millions of pounds a month on travel agents' fees to deport failed asylum seekers, according the most comprehensive breakdown of Whitehall spending ever produced.

The figures published today reveal every item of expenditure in every Government department over £25,000 since the Coalition came to power – and in some cases even smaller bills. The most eye-catching ways that taxpayers’ money was spent included:

* Cabinet Office contracts worth £88,000 with the law firm where Nick Clegg’s wife, Miriam, is a partner.

* Work on Downing Street costing £55,000

* A £170,000 bottled water bill at HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

The UK Border Agency hired Carson Wagonlit Travel to help in its drive to remove more failed asylum seekers from the country. The company says it is “dedicated to helping Government institutions optimise their travel programmes and provide best-in-class service and assistance to travellers”.

It isunderstood the monthly bills for deportation, which range from £1.3m to £3.7m, cover the one-way cost for the failed asylum seekers and return cost of the private security company personnel who accompanied them.

Last night the Home Office confirmed the figures but would not comment further or provide a breakdown of the expenditure.

The figures also disclose that the Cabinet Office paid £55,000 in July to the company Safe SSG for “accommodation improvements” at 10 Downing Street.

Officials stressed last night that the money went on restoration work on the exterior of the listed building; David and Samantha Cameron paid for the new kitchen in the Downing Street flat out of their own pocket.

Perhaps mindful of rising tensions as the spending squeeze bites in Whitehall, the Cabinet Office paid £26,300 to Berkshire Consultancy Ltd for a “difficult conversation workshop”.

The same department made two payments totalling almost £88,000 to DLA Piper, the international law firm where the Deputy Prime Minister’s wife, Miriam Gonzalez, is a partner and head of trade.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said the payments related to a “contract for the monitoring of compliance by Government departments with the Civil Service recruitment procedures”.

He said: “The contract was subject to full competitive tendering. It started in April 2008 and runs for four years with two annual options to extend.”

The Ministry of Justice spent £890,000 on legal books from the publishers Hammicks in August.

Over the five months, the Treasury ran up a bill for £370,380 on travel, while the HMRC stumped up £170,000 on bottled water for staff. The HMRC said it was phasing out bottled water and stressed it was provided in extremely limited circumstances.

The Ministry of Defence forked out £34,000 for a dinner at the RAF museum in Hendon, north London. It was arranged by the catering company Carte Blanche, which trumpets its ability to create “the wow factor” at functions.

The MoD also paid out £35,000 in bank charges.

The slew of information was released by the Government as part of its commitment to bring more transparency to Whitehall spending. Whitehall sources said that many of the bills had been run up by the previous government.

Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister, said the disclosure was “revolutionary”

and urged the public to hold MPs’ “feet to the fire” by pointing out waste. He said: “It is our ambition to make the UK the most transparent and accountable Government in the world.”

Mr Maude acknowledged that much of the data being released was raw or incomplete, and some information could not be published for national security or commercial reasons. But he insisted the format would be improved over time.

Details of Government spending above £25,000 will be released monthly from now on, he added.