John Prescott's office authorised spending hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money on "indoor plant landscaping" and "silver service" waiters when he was Deputy Prime Minister.
Contract documents seen by The Independent reveal Lord Prescott’s department demanded catering staff must always be “discreet”, wear a uniform and on no account “disrupt” meetings of ministers. Indoor gardeners were told to maintain “healthy and vigorous plans” with a “weed free” appearance. The “indoor trees” must be looked after to “ensure the safety of the First Secretary of State”, his staff and visitors.
Even the vending machines had to reach the correct standard: the document spells out that they must only contain “top selling brands”.
The Tories seized on the disclosures suggesting that it showed the “extraordinary waste” of the Labour years. However, last night Lord Prescott said he knew nothing about the contract, which he said would have been drawn up by civil servants.
The document is a contract drawn up between DCLG and a company called Mitie Managed Services which was worth £3.5 million for the upkeep of the department’s headquarters.
It specifies what Mitie must and must not do.
A section labelled ‘soft landscaping maintenance service’ reads: “the contractor shall provide a fully comprehensive soft landscaping service at the First Secretary of State’s premises.
“All plants shall be maintained so as to ensure a pleasing and tidy appearance.
“All plants and shrubs which have died or appear to be dying should be removed.”
Under the ‘hospitality’ section the contractor is obliged to provide a formal catering service for formal ‘breakfasts, lunches, and suppers’.
“Catering staff for hospitality services shall wear uniforms, and must be discreet in their service, and shall not unduly disrupt any meeting in the provision of the services.
It adds: “For formal lunches, dinners, suppers, receptions and special events the contractor shall provide a silver service or other type of formal service as requested.”
The contract has since been renegotiated by the Tories which, they claim has saved the tax payer £300,000.
Local Government Minister Grant Shapps personally attacked Prescott for presiding over the contact.
“This is a bit rich coming from the man who waged class warfare,” he said. “I just hope he tipped the waiters.”
But Lord Prescott hit back. “I had nothing to do with any contract like that – it was all done by civil servants and it never crossed my desk.
“It maybe that the new lot have nothing better to do with their time but look at contracts while people are being thrown out of their homes but in my time we were worried about more important things than pot plants.”