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Friday, November 19, 2010

The price of everything

This morning's Independent contains one of the regular features loved by UK newspapers, focusing on how our money is spent by Whitehall departments.

They tell us that the Home Office is spending millions of pounds a month on travel agents' fees to deport failed asylum seekers. They say that the UK Border Agency hired Carson Wagonlit Travel to help in its drive to remove more failed asylum seekers from the country:

It is understood the monthly bills for deportation, which range from £1.3m to £3.7m, cover the one-way cost for the failed asylum seekers and return cost of the private security company personnel who accompanied them.

....The figures also disclose that the Cabinet Office paid £55,000 in July to the company Safe SSG for “accommodation improvements” at 10 Downing Street.

Officials stressed last night that the money went on restoration work on the exterior of the listed building; David and Samantha Cameron paid for the new kitchen in the Downing Street flat out of their own pocket.

Perhaps mindful of rising tensions as the spending squeeze bites in Whitehall, the Cabinet Office paid £26,300 to Berkshire Consultancy Ltd for a “difficult conversation workshop”.

The same department made two payments totalling almost £88,000 to DLA Piper, the international law firm where the Deputy Prime Minister’s wife, Miriam Gonzalez, is a partner and head of trade.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said the payments related to a “contract for the monitoring of compliance by Government departments with the Civil Service recruitment procedures”.

He said: “The contract was subject to full competitive tendering. It started in April 2008 and runs for four years with two annual options to extend.”

The Ministry of Justice spent £890,000 on legal books from the publishers Hammicks in August.

Over the five months, the Treasury ran up a bill for £370,380 on travel, while the HMRC stumped up £170,000 on bottled water for staff. The HMRC said it was phasing out bottled water and stressed it was provided in extremely limited circumstances.

The Ministry of Defence forked out £34,000 for a dinner at the RAF museum in Hendon, north London. It was arranged by the catering company Carte Blanche, which trumpets its ability to create “the wow factor” at functions.

The MoD also paid out £35,000 in bank charges.

There is nothing extraordinary about any of these revelations. All of the expenditure would have been authorised at the appropriate level and audited. It makes up the day-to-day business of government departments. However, the fact that it is 'out there' enables people to question and scrutinise it and maybe force civil servants to have a rethink. That is a good thing.
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