£900 at a pub in Oxford; £5,400 in Primark. Sam Bright questioned Priti Patel’s department about some peculiar purchases, but received an unconvincing answer
The Home Office has failed to explain a number of strange expenses filed by the department in 2020.
In mid-February this year, migrant rights campaigner Mary Atkinson posted a thread on Twitter, revealing some head-scratching entries into the Home Office expenses logs. “Basically I’m baffled,” Atkinson said, after posting the thread.
“I’m guessing someone (more than one person?) has been accidentally using their work credit card for personal spending – I think a question for the [Home Office] on whether they repaid the money would be reasonable,” added Gemma Abbott, legal director of the Good Law Project.
Byline Times has since reviewed the logs and found some of the claims similarly perplexing:
SELECTED HOME OFFICE PROCUREMENT CARD SPENDING, 2020
23 December: £669, Rachael’s Kitchen Limited
This is the firm that owns the Rachael’s Cupcakes brand
September: £5,415.90, Primark
15 June: £849.50, SportsDirect
2 April: £864, Hair There and Everywhere
This appears to be a hairdressing salon
6 April: £30,000, Global Beauty Products Limited
This firm runs the store ‘Beautiful Brows and Lashes’, but also appears to sell personal protective equipment (PPE)
6 March: £2,022.64, Neptun Qtu Tirane
This appears to be an electronics store in Albania
9 March: £1,040.69, Folkestone Garden Centre
12 March: £3,774.29, Pollyana Restaurant
13 March: £919.81, Entertainment EB
March: SP Beautiful Brows: £77,269.40
This company appears to be run by Global Beauty Products
26 February: £3,952.76, Pollyana Restaurant
27 February: £900, The Magdalen Arms
This appears to be a pub in Oxford
24 January: £2,000, Claudia Lamb Independent
It seems as though Claudia Lamb is a diet consultant
However, when Byline Times asked the Home Office to explain these expenses, and whether they had been submitted in accordance with the department’s policies, the response was unconvincing.
“Departmental spending must be conducted in accordance with agreed policies, justified, and properly scrutinised,” a Home Office spokesperson said.
This appears to suggest that, in the cases noted above, the department does not know whether the spending met its criteria. If it had been satisfied, it surely would have said so?
In total, these peculiar claims amount to £124,262 – not a trivial amount of taxpayer cash.
This outlay also chimes with the Government’s approach to spending during the Coronavirus pandemic as a whole, and the general lack of accountability for its financial decisions.
The UK’s budget for PPE and its ‘Test and Trace’ operation, for example, is a staggering £52 billion. And, while the Government has allocated £15 billion to spend on gloves, masks and sanitiser, the National Audit Office says that – if it had stockpiled adequately prior to the pandemic – the country would have only paid £2.5 billion. Rising demand in the initial months of the COVID-19 crisis, the watchdog said, rapidly increased the price of products.
However, there have been few repercussions for the Government, with no suggestion that nurses are having their wages limited precisely because ministers overspent during the pandemic. Whereas the Conservatives claimed that Labour ‘maxxed out the credit card’ after the 2008 global financial crash, little has been made, politically, of the Government’s haphazard, excessive spending during the pandemic.
While there is a very real difference between spending £15 billion on PPE and spending £900 at a posh pub in Oxford (that I’m sure was very nice), there does seem to be a general antipathy in Government towards journalists and activists who scrutinise its investments, and an air of impunity around the decisions that it takes.
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