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Tories snap back at ‘lavish’ spending on taxpayer-funded debit cards

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The Labour Party has been mocked after it accused the Conservative Government of “misusing” the debit cards issued to departments for quick and easy small purchases even though Tony Blair was responsible for creating them. In a new report, they found overall spending to have increased by over 70 percent since 2010 – highlighting many dubious entries in the scattered records yet the Tories claim the total is still far below the billion-pound sum racked up during Gordon Brown’s final year.

Government Procurement Cards (GPCs) were introduced by Tony Blair’s incoming Labour Government to allow departments to make low-value purchases efficiently.

As of March 31, 2022 there were 8,666 of these special black debit cards in circulation across Whitehall. As reports of their misuse emerged in 2011, new rules required all transactions above £500 be published.

On Monday morning, the Labour Party released The GPC Files – its analysis of these accounts. It shows over half a million purchases were made, tapping into taxpayer money each time.

However, a senior Conservative source told Express.co.uk: “Awkwardly for Labour HQ they’ve forgotten that they introduced these ‘civil servant credit cards’ in 1997. The vast majority of transactions remain unnoteworthy office expenses.

The source added: “By 2010 Labour was spending almost £1billion of taxpayers’ money on everything from dinners at Mr Chu’s Chinese restaurant to luxury five-star hotels.

“The Conservatives swiftly stopped their absurd profligacy, cutting the number of cards, introducing a requirement for spending to be publicly declared and introducing controls.

“Typically, Labour’s ‘big idea’ is to spend millions to establish yet another quango, stuff it with thousands of bureaucrats and give them gold-plated pensions.”

Express.co.uk was not immediately able to verify these claims.

According to Labour’s report, data from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is “riddled with anomalies” and has thus been excluded, despite accounting for the vast majority of total GPC spending a decade ago. Direct comparisons to GPC usage habits of Labour Governments past is thus not possible.

In 2021, the remaining 14 major departments in Whitehall spent a total of £145,497,231 using GPCs – an increase of 71.4 percent from the 2010/2011 financial year (though the analysis does not take into account inflation).

Over the past decade, usage by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has shot from £36.9million to £84.9million. The department is now the Government’s top spender, accounting for 58 percent of the total alone.

Overall, Labour’s 36-page document claims to have unearthed a “scandalous catalogue of waste”, according to deputy leader Angela Rayner, including “lavish spending” on food, drink, hotels and gifts, alongside rampant filing errors.

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Among the evidence of this, the report notes the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)’s £20,116 worth of purchases from English sparkling wine producer Ridgeview Estate Winery between October 2021 and the following July.

This particular item was filed under “Nondurable Goods” in the category “Miscellaneous/Industrial/Commercial Supplies”. Many diplomatic relationships are managed from within the FCDO, so gifts and social gatherings are to be expected, but the scale and lack of transparency surrounding these expenses have been a marked concern according to the Labour report.

The report also finds Foreign Office staff reported expenditure of £343,803 under the “restaurants and bars” category during the year.

Other examples include the Treasury buying 13 fine art photographs from The Tate Gallery worth £3,393, as well as fronting a £3,217 stay at the five-star Hotel Danieli in Venice at the time of then-Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s G20 trip in July 2021.

The MoJ also used GPCs to buy 850 branded USB cables for staff to use during a virtual conference, at a total cost of £4,019.

In terms of suppliers, BFS Group received the most taxpayer money in this way for food supplies to the Prison Service, but many household brands also feature. Whitehall staff spent £3.3million in 2021 at stationer Banner, £237,683 at IKEA and £105,832 at John Lewis.

Over £1.5million was also spent on Amazon – the MoJ alone making £698,208 of purchases from the online retailer.

Ms Rayner was, however, forced to defend herself on Times Radio when questioned about claims of more than £2,000 worth of Apple products on expenses. She said it “wasn’t the same millions of pounds that is being used on these credit cards in an inappropriate way”.

She added: “I’m actually using the equipment right now as I’m speaking to you on the iPad.”

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