Civil servants at the Department for Education under Charles Clarke have increased their appetite, not for learning, but for wine and luxury sandwiches.
An internal memorandum from the Secretary of State's senior officials shows that the ministry spent £600,000 of taxpayers' money on refreshments last year - a huge 30 per cent increase on the previous year when the more ascetic Estelle Morris ran the department. Mr Clarke is known for his fondness of red wine, while Ms Morris' tipple wasfizzy water.
The department's spending in this area compares with the £88,503 spent on hospitality by the Department of Health between April and December last year. One civil servant told The Independent: "Just think what the extra £200,000 would do for an inner city primary school.'' One observer said it would fund 10 extra teachers or an additional 13,000 books. The e-mail warns that refreshments should only be provided when people have to travel to the department in Westminster. John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said he had seen no difference in the quality of comestibles since Mr Clarke had taken over.
He said he found it hard to believe he was responsible for the huge increase in budget.
John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said he had received less of ministers' hospitality since his organisation refused to sign a new agreement on workload. A spokeswoman for the department said: " ... any extra spending in this area only reflects our extra determination to work more closely with key partners and ensure we are always offering the best service ... ."Reuse content