Coalition spending revealed: Crime Agency's £336,573 outlay on Mercedes vans for 'special projects', a £27,000 parking bill at Gatwick Airport and £108,000 PR spend among Government departments’ public accounts

 

whitehall editor

It was just less than a year ago that ministers claimed the Government was starting to “manage our finances like the best-run FTSE100 businesses”.

Either they were being rather optimistic or they have a pretty dim view of how efficient corporate Britain is.

A snapshot analysis of Government spending in the first two months of this year reveals some rather large and rather surprising payments made by departments to private-sector contractors.

Under Government rules, all spending by departments over £25,000 has to be published – although not necessarily in easily accessible form. But a trawl through Excel spreadsheets reveals the UK Border Agency managed to rack up a parking bill at Gatwick Airport of £27,000 in January, and had a bill from Portsmouth City Council for £34,000.

Then there is the new National Crime Agency that in February made 10 different payments totalling £336,573 to the upmarket car and van manufacturer Mercedes Benz. No more information was available on what they got for their money as the only stated reason for the spending is just listed as “special projects”. A spokesman later added that the vehicles were “used on live operations and not personal issue”.

But other departments are far from immune from apparently extravagant spending. Over the first two months of the year, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) spent £47,291 on the “monitoring and evaluation” of its Green Deal scheme. Given the department’s own statistics show that only 746 households have taken up the offer to have energy-efficiency measures installed one might conclude that such an evaluation could have been done for less.

The same department then spent £14,900 on media and design services – to rebrand the Green Deal’s image. The DECC’s accounts also show a payment of £108,000 to public relations firm Freuds. Again it is unclear what the money was spent on. The department describes it as “overhead incidental expenses”.

Then there is the Department of the Environment (Defra) that spent £31,000 with the courier company City Sprint between 2-11 January for “office solutions”. Defra also spent £30,400 on “press, radio and media fees” with a firm called Arena BLM that describes itself as a “progressive agency centred around being smart and agile”.

The Ministry of Defence paid over £200,000 to the lobbying firm Bell Pottinger. The description of why the spending was needed was also vague: “The provision of independent advice and guidance related to the structure, management and operations of an organisation.” Let’s hope they weren’t getting advice on lobbying themselves.

To be fair to the Cabinet Office, that has responsibility for policing Government spending, significant progress has been made at reducing unnecessary costs – with Whitehall expected to announce savings of £10bn during the last financial year.

But sources admit that despite their best efforts, it can be a difficult task forcing individual departments to accept that not everything they pay for is worth the money.

The departments involved said all spending was in line with Government rules.

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