It’s sort of a rule in politics that the more boring something sounds, the more likely it is to be interesting. So is proving to be the case with my investigation of the “Government Procurement Card”. Behind the sort of name that sends you to sleep lies a credit card system that allows civil servants to incur work expenses.
While people in the private sector have to spend an age demonstrating to their bosses why their expense receipts should be signed off, civil servants can just pop it on the Government credit card. Even better the detailed audit trails have, until now, largely remained hidden and, being small amounts, are generally not subject to the new £500 expenditure transparency rules which are about to be implemented.
Yet these expenses are subject to Parliamentary questions and I have obtained detailed reports on what civil servants have been expensing. The National Audit Office, the Government spending watchdogs, have enjoyed fine dining at posh London restaurants and luxury foreign hotels – along with the odd bit of shopping at Sainsburys and Argos. While over at the Ordnance Survey it's more caviar, designer sunglasses, hotel chocolat, the usual luxury hotel stays on the public ticket along with, yes, doing a bit of shopping down at the local Tescos. Officials at the OFT have enjoyed the hospitality of Hooters while at the Department of Health taxpayer's money has gone on nights out at gay nightclubs and finger puppets.
While it’s all quite amusing at one level, there is a serious point. You cannot have trust in politics without accountability. And you cannot have accountability without transparency. This is one reason why it’s important to ensure that there is maximum transparency on how taxpayers' money is spent. The other is that civil servants will take a lot more care about expenses if they are all published and have to be justified. Publishing everything over £500 is in the right direction but, as these expenses are all on a spreadsheet anyway, why don't they just publish the lot?
As a Member of Parliament my expenses are published on my website in full on a regular basis. Shouldn't the same transparency be applied to the expenses of civil servants?