Coalition ministers spend £40,000 on potted plants

Soon after arriving in Downing Street, David Cameron singled out the cost of flowers and pot plants in Whitehall as proof of the need to root out waste in the public sector.

In his first appearance at Prime Minister’s Question Time following the election, he told MPs he was amazed to discover the flower bill at the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS).

His axe-wielding Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, made the same headline-friendly point, announcing he was cancelling his department’s floristry bill and telling his civil servants to water their plants themselves.

The message has not filtered through to all of their Cabinet colleagues.

Despite all their warnings of tough days ahead as public spending is squeezed, the coalition Government has still paid more than £40,000 for plants and trees since taking office, the Independent can disclose.

The bill, which showed four departments spending more than £5,000, emerged from a series of Commons answers.

The biggest spender on greenery is Andrew Lansley’s Department of Health, which is seeking efficiency savings of £20bn from the NHS over the next four years. It paid £12,383.30 between May 2010 and this March for plants and trees for its “core headquarters estate”.

It was followed by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which disclosed that it spent £8,975.24 with “our foliage suppliers” since the election. It added that it had scrapped its foliage contracts in September.

Although George Osborne is overseeing the austerity programme, the Treasury still managed to stump up £7,423 for “the provision and maintenance of indoor plants”.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Office spent £5,516 on plants, including £3,795 for “high-profile international events” at Lancaster House, the mansion used to stage conferences, mostly recently for last week’s emergency talks on Libya.

The Northern Ireland Office ran up a £4,120.47 bill, despite stressing that it uses plants grown at Hillsborough Castle, the Northern Ireland Secretary's official residence.

Despite Mr Cameron’s admonishment, the DCMS, which has just announced heavy cuts in subsidies for arts organisations, still spent £1,859.37 on foliage.

Luciana Berger, the Labour MP who obtained the figures, denounced the spending by the Department of Health.

“I’m not averse to people having pot plants in offices. People in the civil service should work in a nice environment, but you could go to Homebase and get plants for a few pounds,” she said.

“Andrew Lansley should put his money where his mouth is – he made a commitment to cut out waste and yet his department spent £12,000 on plants. It’s excessive.”

The Department of Health said it had “significantly” cut its monthly spending on plants and trees from £1,426.96 to £598.77 when its facilities management contract was switched to a new company.

Overall the answers showed expenditure of at least £40,334 by Whitehall since the election – and the actual total could be far higher.

Several departments have so far failed to answer or refused to give a detailed response.

The Cabinet Office, which oversees spending in Downing Street, merely said the cost of plants and trees formed part of a larger contract, adding that the amount spent on “soft landscaping” represented less than one per cent.

The Ministry of Defence said: “Expenditure on plants and trees across the defence estate is determined by business need and must be appropriate, cost effective and a proper charge to public funds.”

The Home Office simply said it spent a “limited amount”, while the Department for Work and Pensions said the answer could only be supplied at disproportionate cost.

The Scotland Office worked out it that it spent £37 and the Wales Office calculated its flower bill to be just £20.

Both the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Energy and Climate Change said they had spent nothing on plants.

Predictably Mr Pickles’s department gave the same answer. It said: “Following suggestions by staff in feedback on departmental cost savings, the plants will be looked after by departmental staff on a voluntary basis.”

There was more than a little irony to Whitehall’s £40,000 flower bill – it is the same amount that Mr Pickles berated the Audit Commission for spending on plants as he condemned its alleged culture of waste.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?