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13 February 2023

The civil servants’ expenses files reveal a government committed to waste

The GPC revelations are the latest scandal to highlight how the Conservatives have squandered Britain’s resources.

By Rachel Wearmouth

This morning Labour has published the GPC files, which show how civil servants spent nearly £150m on government-issued “credit cards” in 2021. The searchable database of expenditure on government procurement cards (GPCs) above £500 includes payments for luxury hotels for ministers, gifts for foreign dignitaries and entertainment.

Spending on the cards has risen 70 per cent since 2010 and some of the worst examples of what Labour calls “hideous waste” include Liz Truss, then foreign secretary, and her officials spending almost £1,500 on lunch at Jakarta’s most exclusive restaurants and the Treasury, then led by Rishi Sunak, splashing out £4,500 on Venice hotels and £3,000 for art.

The revelations come as households are in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis and ten years after the Public Accounts Committee warned civil servants to book second-class travel and fewer five-star hotels. Under official guidelines, ministers are supposed to stay in the most cost-effective accommodation when abroad on foreign trips.

Added to the PPE scandal – which showed that during the Covid-19 crisis billions of pounds were wasted on unusable equipment, with contracts often handed to Conservative cronies – the GPC files will help the opposition prosecute the case that the government is lax with taxpayers’ cash.

[See also: Rishi Sunak, the man who isn’t there]

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The government is also in the dock when it comes to an entirely different, but equally damaging, waste scandal: the one affecting Britain’s rivers, which has been ongoing since an Environment Audit Committee report sounded the alarm on the “chemical cocktail of sewage, agricultural waste, and plastic” polluting waterways.

According to data from the Environment Agency, sewage was dumped into the seas and rivers around the UK more than 770,000 times in 2020 and 2021. The regulator was hollowed out by Truss when she was environment secretary, but the i, the New Scientist and the Times are all now campaigning for its powers to be augmented and for the government to clean up Britain’s waters. Ministers have not responded well, however. The Environment Secretary, Thérèse Coffey, is reportedly backing away from plans to impose a maximum fine of £250m on water companies that spill sewage into rivers and seas.

Central to Sunak’s political brand is that voters see him as a clean break from the past and that, as a former chancellor, he is responsible with taxpayers’ cash. But both of these stories chip away at those claims and paint a picture of a government in decline.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe here.

Read more from Rachel Wearmouth, our deputy political editor:

Labour’s Bolton selection row puts Angela Rayner and Keir Starmer allies at odds

Will Rishi Sunak’s reshuffle restore his authority?

PMQs: Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer unite in solidarity with Ukraine

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