Thursday, 12 August 2010


A reader kindly brought to my attention the fact that MEPs and officials in Brussels can obtain Methadone and Viagra free on the Health Insurance taken out for them as part of their salary packages.

I had just finished a reply to him (or her) and turned to the papers to see if there was anything of interest worth blogging about.

Lo and behold, the Telegraph provided me with a story which I think probably goes to show that it doesn’t much matter where the government is, London or Brussels, or Edinburgh, and for that matter probably Paris, Helsinki and Bamako (just in case you don't recognise the name), ministers and officials will find ways of spending our cash that don’t directly benefit us, but do directly benefit them.

In an attempt to be open and clear about what happened under the last government Eric Pickles has opened the books of the Communities Department of England. It has to be hoped that other departments of state will be so open. Clearly, as a Scotsman, I’d like to see the departments that affect my country do the same thing, most particularly the Scotland Office.

Among the items that I found interesting in the spend were: £635,000 on taxis and cars, £16 million on marketing, advertising, promotion and events, and £310,000 on catering and food. Amazingly large sums were spent wellbeing and training companies, therapies, acupressure massage, Indian Head Massage and Reflexology.

Money was even spent on trips to Blackpool Pleasure Beach and a nature reserve and on football clubs, including Manchester City and Manchester United.

Nearly £200,000 was spent on hotels including the Hilton, Royal Horseguards and at the Thistle Hotel, Marble Arch in central London.

Of course it is normal for private enterprise to use hotels, take staff on away days and fund training courses provided by outside organizations, and of course, given the size of the department, some of the sums are pretty small. But it has to be remembered that we were in a deep recession during the year in question and all extraneous costs should have been cut from government departments’ budgets as they were from commercial organisations. I’m sure that under Mr Pickles’ guidance, there will be no spending of this kind at all.

Bob Neill, the Local Government Minister said that the department had been living it up at the taxpayers’ expense whilst thousands of households were struggling to make ends meet. It was unforgivable, he said, that a culture of excess was allowed to flourish for so long.

English Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: "The simple task of putting spending online will open the doors to an army of armchair auditors who will be able to see at a glance exactly where millions of pounds spent last year went. Looking at last year's spending it is clear that there is room for improvement."

Both Mr Pickles and Mr Neill should of course be aware that the day to day running of government departments is not really the ministers’ job. That task falls to the Permanent Secretary and his (or her) staff. I expect that the fact that this was allowed to go on will be a black mark on the records of these senior staff, and that any impending honours, which by custom go to these “top” people, will be reconsidered very carefully.

Hopefully when next years’ figures are published, not one penny piece of money will have been wasted on fripperies. I image too that all ministers in the department will find that the Telegraph will scrutinize their own expenses very closely.


  1. I agree wholeheartedly. Pickles seems to be sticking to the promises of a manifesto which elsewhere, notably number 10, is carry on as before. Hype and office politics before country.

  2. OR: I don't mind reasonable staffing expenses, but Pickles should understand that the day to day running of departments is not really a job for Secretaries of State. He may find next year's disclosures embarrassing as he's made a bit of a fuss over small beer here.

    I actually said on Tom Harris's blog that I couldn't didn't notice any difference between the two governments. It's all petty politics, as you say, before country.

    We're getting the same thing in Scotland where Labour is opposing everything for the sake of opposing it. No thought here about what is good for Scotland.

    Btw: Apologies to all while we are messing about with the layout of the blog. We're trying to get a pleasant look, whilst ensuring that the type face is readable and the side bars are the right size.

    Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. :¬)

  3. Tris,

    I also think that Pickles is keeping to his promises, and I rather like the precident of open government, it will be a new experience for the UK.

    Politics before country however? I don't see it with Cameron, I think he's doing good, I am enjoying his leadership.

  4. LOL Dean... I thought you’d probably like life under Dave. Like you I welcome open government (as long as it’s the truth) and I look forward to them opening up the FO and The Scotland Office....

    I wonder, Dean, what Mrs Goldie will do now that Cameron has said that he thinks that minimum pricing is a good thing as long as it isn't done by Westminster (which is weird as Westminster is the only place where they can tax the booze rather than increase supermarket profits). I also can’t understand why its a good thing locally and not nationally (or supranational because it should include Wales and NI as well as Scotland and England).

    She doesn't think it's a good idea and has voted against it.

    I thought that the Tories considered Scotland to be a region of the UK, so what Edinburgh was doing would be pretty similar to what Manchester is doing, or at least trying to do.

    What do you think she'll do? Prove her independence from London by sticking to her line that the police already have the powers to deal with the drinking problems Scotland has, or fold her tent and agree that minimum pricing is a good thing.

    Actually she’s right that as far as pubs are concerned police do have powers as do local authorities. Unless I’m mistaken pubs are not allowed to sell alcohol to any person who is drunk. As every single pub probably does, they could all lose their licences, if only we had enough police. Still a few well chosen examples would deal with the problem.

    What no one has is the power to stop supermarkets selling alcohol cheaper than milk or water.

    I’d be interested to hear what rank and file Tories think she should do. And is she right or is Cameron right... or are they both right and I’ve missed something? LOL

  5. Rumpey with a free stiffyAugust 12, 2010 11:31 pm

    Free Viagra and methadone for the drones in the EU ?
    Imagine Von Rumpey Pumpey chasing after you with a stiffy and a heroin habit ?
    Even Dean would forget he loved the place and run for the hills lol

    Like your new site layout. Very pretty.

  6. Worse... that woman that Brown sent there from the HoL. Ash something or other

    They all look like they fell off the Ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.

    Thanks for the compliment... much appreciated!! :¬)

  7. Rumpey,

    Oh you'r right, under those conditions I'd be a real athlete out of there!

    p.s thanks for that mental nightmare as I switch off for the night LOL

  8. Tris,

    Her views hardly matter anymore, she won't be leader after Holyrood 2011. I tend to wonder what the views are in Murdo, Brownlee and Lamonts minds ... the potential leadership candidates [or even Jackson Carlaw]

  9. Didn't Lamont want to be an MP at the last GE? Despite auntie Annabel's remonstrations against dual mandates. My how she had a go at Alex for that and then not one but two of her MSPs wanted to do the same thing. But then he failed to overturn the Lib Dems huge majority? Hardly leadership material if he is desperate to run off to Westminster and join the colaition band waggon.

  10. LOL @ Dean. I hope you slept well mate.

    Fair dos... I always liked her, but I know I'm not in the majority. So what will the Tory's attitude be in the talks with Nichola in the next few months?

    Will they vote with the government, in which case the bill will go through, or will they continue to take the line that they have in opposition to Mr Cameron's viewpoint?

    I'm not making a political point here Dean. (I don't think that putting a few pence on a drink will make any difference to kids who have plenty of money or alcoholcs who will buy drink at any price, so I'm not sure I'd vote for it either. It seems to me that mostly what it will do is give Tesco more profit.) I'm interested in the progress of the bill into law, that's all.

  11. Tris,

    What our position in a few months depends on how soon we can offload Goldie.

  12. Offload her....? sheesh!

    Aye...well the Tories never were much for sentiment Dean ...LOL....