Another day, another political food fight – and this one really takes the biscuit

 

An urgent review has been ordered at the Department of Health after it was revealed that it spent more than £100,000 in three months on "tea and biscuits".

Since 1 January the department has racked up a bill for £109,017 to provide tea, biscuits and other refreshments at meetings for staff and visitors.

Jon Trickett, Labour's shadow Cabinet Office minister, discovered the size of the bill after posing a Parliamentary Question which lifted the lid on some of the spending by the government department.

Mr Trickett said government was guilty of reckless spending and that the figures illustrated that Andrew Lansley, the under-pressure Health Secretary, was losing control.

"It is clear the chaos engulfing the NHS reforms has resulted in Andrew Lansley completely losing his grip on his own department's reckless spending," Mr Trickett said. "This money would have been far better spent supporting NHS workers on the front line."

A series of questions from the shadow minister uncovered what he described as "wasteful" spending in several government departments.

Among them was a bill for £214,059 for refreshments at the Home Office over an eight-month period last year, £3,527 spent by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on cut flowers and pot plants, and £151,990 spent on taxi contracts over four months last year by the Foreign Office and its trading arm FCO Services.

A Department of Health spokesman insisted the £109,017 biscuit bill was a marked improvement on the first three months of last year when officials managed to spend £137,000 on light refreshments and in 2010 when the spending reached £194,000.

He said: "This spending relates to a hospitality contract that was started in 2005 under the previous administration. Since then we have significantly reduced the amount spent under this contract on catering for meetings, events and conferences."

The last time biscuits were such a political hot potato was in 1994 when, amid the cash-for-questions scandal, MP Neil Hamilton held up a ginger biscuit he'd been given during a school visit and ironically told the media: "I shall of course be registering the biscuit on the Register of Members' Interests."

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