Police quango has £6.5m credit card bill

7th August 2011  

When you open your credit card bill this month, rest assured it’s unlikely to top that of the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA) or indeed that of the MoD.

Freedom of Information Act enquiries have revealed the NPIA managed to fritter away £6.5 million of tax payer’s money just on credit card expenditure in the financial years 2008/9 and 2009/10.

Unbelievably, enquiries show that the NPIA spent money on those well-known essential business items judo apparatus, karaoke equipment, commemorative coins and of course that indispensable aid to harmony in any quango office, lingerie.

The NPIA was established by the old labour Government in 2007 with a view to making police forces in England and Wales more cost effective and efficient. The NPIA said it is “bearing down” on its spending but it did admit that there was a “perception of wastefulness” in its “early days”.

It confirmed it had “significantly reduced” the amount spent through the use of credit cards by 33%, from £3.6m in 2009/10 to a mere £2.48m in 2010/11.

A substantial amount of the money was spent on airline tickets, hotel accommodation and train fares for staff that travelled on business. Close to £100,000 was also spent on taxi fares.

Home Secretary Teresa May has announced that the NPIA will be abolished and the useful elements reversed into the new National Crime Agency along with parts of Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).

NPIA’s chief executive Nick Gargan said

“We have controls in place to ensure that the [procurement] cards are only used where there is a business need, and where they have been properly authorised.

“The NPIA is a national policy agency which means getting out and about to forces, which will involve incurring business expenditure.

The Ministry of Defence is also facing some awkward questions about the use of the now heavily scrutinised ‘Government Procurement Cards’ (GPC’s). The GPC was introduced in a bid to simplify and speed up the purchase of small and essential items. However Cabinet Office figures have revealed that the MoD has managed to blow close to £1 billion in 4 years on the cards.

The MoD had in issue 14,271 of the cards in December 2010, according to the figures, and the average GPC transaction value at the ministry was said to be £240.

The MoD card spend was the biggest revealed in the Cabinet Office figures. The Environment Agency and Kent Country Council were second and third largest spenders with £215,465,490 and £171,043,573 respectively in the same period.

An MoD spokeswoman said

“The MoD is one of the largest departments in government with military and civilian personnel based all over the world.

“This means that we need the speed and flexibility in procurement that the GPC provides.

“The GPC also cuts overhead costs – the National Audit Office (NAO) concluded that a transaction through GPC is on average £28 cheaper than a manual order and payment process – and so provides good value for money for the taxpayer.”

The MoD refused to follow other departments in publishing a breakdown of their expenditure on GPC’s which would clearly identify any questionable purchases. Large items purchased by other departments reportedly include tablet computers, first-class flights and even a snowmobile.

The eye-opening revelations will fuel growing concerns over the management of the MoD, which is being forced to shed 17,000 posts by 2015 in an attempt to save £4.7billion.

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