John Prescott seeks card investigation apology

 

Lord Prescott demanded an apology from two Government ministers today, after a Civil Service investigation cleared him of misusing departmental credit cards.

The head of the Civil Service, Sir Gus O'Donnell, has written to the former deputy prime minister to confirm that all spending on cards used by his office was "legitimate" except for seven transactions made after a card was illegally cloned.

Lord Prescott accused Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Housing Minister Grant Shapps of using taxpayers' money to pursue a politically-motivated attempt to smear his reputation.

Details of spending on Government Procurement Cards issued to Lord Prescott's department between 2004 and 2006 were released by Mr Pickles' Department for Communities and Local Government in October this year, as the coalition highlighted its efforts to cut official expenses.

These included £456 at the Star City casino, £490 at a seafood restaurant and £75 at an aquarium during a visit to Sydney in 2004, as well as £400 at a Chinese restaurant in Lord Prescott's home town of Hull.

Mr Shapps claimed they showed a culture of "wild spending" under the previous Labour administration and accused Lord Prescott of showing "a cavalier attitude to the public purse".

But the former DPM insisted he had never held a Government credit card and said fraud was the only explanation for some of the items, including £2,000 worth of camera equipment purchased on the same day in 2005.

Much of the spending appeared to cover meals for officials from his department who were away from home on Government business, including a trip to study the impact of the relaxation of casino licensing in Australia, he said.

Sir Gus's letter, sent to Lord Prescott last month, confirmed that "you did not hold a government procurement card while you were Deputy Prime Minister".

And the Cabinet Secretary added: "From the information available, the expenditure appears to have been legitimately incurred by the Department, with the exception of seven transactions amounting to some £2,000 from cloned credit cards. The money has been recovered."

Lord Prescott said he understood that the transactions on cloned cards related to the camera equipment.

And he said: "I want Pickles and Shapps to apologise for letting people believe I had a government credit card and was using it to gamble in casinos."

The Labour peer said he was particularly angered because Government transparency rules require the publication only of transactions over £500, but the DCLG - which took over from his Office of the Deputy Prime Minister - took the decision to release details below this threshold in his case.

"I have asked other departments and they say they can't go below £500 because it is too expensive," he said. "If that's the case, then why can Pickles do it when it comes to me? It is politically motivated.

"It suggests this was a concerted political attempt to blacken my name, which was done at the taxpayers' expense. If that is the case, you would have to ask whether that was a legitimate use of public money."

Mr Shapps said: "This is all bluster, smoke and mirrors by Prezza to try and deflect attention.

"But no amount of spinning the tables can disguise his luxury 'research' trip to a top Australian casino whilst enjoying some of the country's finest cuisine, all at the taxpayer's expense.

"Raiding the public purse for this type of lavish expenditure just shows how out of touch Labour got in power and the reason why they should never be trusted again in office."

PA

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