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£500k – what it cost to feed (and water) G20 leaders

Michael Savage,Political Correspondent
Thursday 07 May 2009 00:00 BST

When the world's most powerful leaders descended on London last month to tackle the economic crisis, they left Gordon Brown basking in the glory of brokering a deal to pump billions into the world's economy.

But it also left British taxpayers with a less desirable legacy – a bill of about £500,000 for wining and dining the delegates, their partners and their aides, The Independent can reveal.

The figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that the cost of a series of dinners for dignitaries on the eve of the summit, crucial to boosting Mr Brown's global standing, cost more than £66,000. The high-profile guests consumed 136 bottles of wine worth £6,000, all paid for by the taxpayer.

Events laid on for the VIPs before the 2 April summit included a dinner, complete with a menu by Jamie Oliver, for the leaders and their partners at Nos 10 and 11 Downing Street.

The guests, including Barack and Michelle Obama, were treated to organic Scottish salmon, followed by shoulder of lamb from the Elwy Valley in north Wales.

A string of celebrities, including the athlete Dame Kelly Holmes and the Harry Potter author JK Rowling, were also invited to the banquet.

Foreign and finance ministers were treated to entertainment at Lancaster House and the Tate Modern. The bill also included buffets for as many as 220 aides, bag carriers and advisers, but the bulk of the budget was used to cater for the 102 guests at the three events across London.

The cost of keeping 800 officials, 200 VIPs and other staff such as security workers and interpreters on the day of the conference at east London's ExCel Centre came to more than £435,000, although the Foreign Office says it can claw back some of the VAT it paid.

A top wine list was also drawn up, including English brands. The Foreign Office said it bought the wine for a fraction of its normal price by purchasing years ago, using the bottles only when they had matured. But the size of the total sum has left many MPs arguing that the public has been left footing the bill for an event designed to bolster the Prime Minister's reputation abroad.

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, said: "The picture of world leaders enjoying fine wine and great food, while thousands of people are worried about their jobs and homes is not a good one."

Grant Shapps, the Conservative front-bencher who has in the past exposed Government spending on hospitality, said the bill showed that Labour still "didn't get it".

The Foreign Office defended the hospitality costs, saying: "This was the most significant international gathering in the UK since the G8 in 2005."

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