The election watchdog’s staff used taxpayers’ money to buy fruit for their lunches, credit for their mobile phones and a leaving card for a colleague, it was revealed yesterday. The Electoral Commission used government-issued credit cards to pay for everything from milk to London Underground fares.
Thousands of pounds were charged to the cards for conference rooms just a few miles from the quango’s head office. Staff at the commission, which is charged with ensuring clean and efficient elections, racked up a total of £345,553.70 on the cards in the financial year that ended in March.
The period included last year’s general election, which saw the organisation and its head, Jenny Watson, receive heavy criticism over the late-night queues that developed outside some polling stations, preventing many voters from casting their ballots.
Government procurement cards, which were introduced by Labour in 1997, cost taxpayers more than £1billion a year. Critics say that spending on the cards – issued to civil servants and state employees – is badly controlled, and staff can be tempted to use them for personal costs. The Electoral Commission’s 166 staff members spent the equivalent of just over £2,000 each.
Much of their spending went on travel, food and accommodation for staff who were on the road – but the cards were used for trivial amounts as well. One worker spent £10 topping up their mobile phone, and another paid £29 for ‘SMS text messaging’.