The Daily Telegraph reports that the soon to be abolished Audit Commission spent £20,000 on luxury good and services on official Visa cards paid for by taxpayers. Executives enjoyed £600 dinners at L’Escargot and Coq d’Argent restaurants, spent £1,300 on flowers and splashed out on doughnuts, Thorntons chocolates and HMV goodies. The details, reminiscent of famously extravagant spending sprees by celebrities such as Elton John, were released by Conservative MP Eric Ollerenshaw.
Don't go spending my cash...
It has also emerged that the government might instigate an inquiry to investigate the Audit Commission’s apparently spendthrift habits and could order officials to repay squandered money. While the details may certainly raise eyebrows, they might not surprise those who have been watching the spending watchdog. In March the TaxPayers’ Alliance welcomed moves to abolish the quango in part because its running costs are too high. TPA Director Matthew Sinclair also appeared before the Communities and Local Government Select Committee to discuss the abolition of the Audit Commission back in March.
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It’s these kinds of stories that show just how out of step with reality the Audit Commission became over the years.
But this story raises further issues. With 140,000 such taxpayer-funded Visa cards in circulation across the public sector spending a total of over £1,000,000,000 per year who knows how much is being frittered away elsewhere? Not the Government, if Top Shop boss Sir Philip Green’s review of efficiency in government is anything to go by. He concluded that spending on the cards “is not monitored”.
We welcome the government’s moves towards transparency on spending taxpayers’ money, but this shows more is needed and spending on cards should be itemised and published. The secrecy of publishing only total bills for credit cards is not acceptable. Taxpayers deserve full transparency when officials and politicians spend their money.