Credit card fraud still rife in the corridors of power

9th January 2012  

Following requests made under the Freedom of Information Act, it appears that dozens of council employees and civil servants have been formally reprimanded, disciplined and some even jailed for misusing Government credit cards.

Proving that credit card fraud doesn’t just happen online or is only perpetuated by criminal gangs, hundreds of Government employees have been caught out spending thousands of pounds of taxpayer’s money by misusing Government credit cards. Four have been jailed after a catalogue of transactions were uncovered amounting to nearly £21,000 in the past five years.

Credit card abuse

Five officials at the MoD were prosecuted for spending £4,030 on furniture, £80 on ‘picture framing materials’, £3,786 on flights and £1,600 on a laptop and other electrical goods. This was just the tip of a very big iceberg – over the period there were a further 140 cases of credit card abuse, totalling over a quarter of a million pounds. Whitehall refused to release details of these, citing data protection clauses.

Doughnuts and flying lessons

What’s even more surprising are the charges that were made to Government issued credit cards that actually qualify as legitimate. From stays in Five Star hotels to computer games, flying lessons and even doughnuts, it seems that the mandarins of Whitehall enjoy putting purchases on their company cards.

The total figures, published as part of the government’s attempts at a more ‘transparent’ system, show that staff and quangos spent a colossal £342 million on official procurement cards in the past 12 months. Astonishingly, that figure actually represents a fall of £45million compared to the previous year’s extravagances.

However, the rules seem to say that as long as an item of expenditure can be justified, it can be added to the bill to the public purse. However some, in particular some of the luxury hotel bills for the Trade & Investment delegation, are on the extreme side, particularly for a Government that is making deep cuts in public spending with a raft of austerity measures. Spending £13,689 for a stay at a Four Star hotel overlooking Copacabana Beach in Brazil doesn’t seem particularly austere. And why, exactly, would the Ministry of Justice spend nearly a thousand pounds on Avon cosmetics?

When will they learn?

With public confidence in the trustworthiness of those in public office at an all time low, when will MP’s and Civil Servants understand that the impoverished general public find it totally unacceptable for them to travel First Class on trains and planes,or to stay in luxury hotels at the tax payer’s expense?

At a time when we’re all being told to keep a check on our expenditure and many people are cutting down on basic essentials (never mind the luxuries) to make ends meet, it seems that Whitehall isn’t following its own advice. It’s all too easy to ‘put something on expenses’ without thinking about the wider consequences. Not only are these legitimate charges eating into the public purse, but they send out completely the wrong message to a population that’s currently bound by economic fear, cuts and concerns about a double-dip recession on the horizon.

In the same way that ordinary credit card users are having to ‘take-stock’ of their post Christmas finances, perhaps Whitehall should take a long, hard look at its credit card bill and start reining in some of the more frivolous expenditure. After all, do they really need to spend £54.30 on Krispy Kreme Doughnuts or ‘go antiquing’ with £868.50 of taxpayer’s money?

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