Tuesday 28 April 2015

Credit cards and hotel bills

Unlike England, and a couple of local authorities in Wales, Carmarthenshire Council doesn't believe in publishing any spending details. Extracting such information is painful to say the least. If any is released, begrudgingly, under the Freedom of Information Act, it usually lacks sufficient information to be of much use to any budding 'armchair auditors'.

However, back in 2011 I asked Carmarthenshire Council for their credit card spending details. I was told there was one corporate card and the information was released in a fairly detailed format; I blogged about it here.

Another response has recently been forwarded on to me, although it was not my request. The information covers 2012 to early in 2013 and consists of Barclaycard statements so the details are limited. Nevertheless it is interesting and in this period there were three officers each holding a credit card.

As I said back in 2011, a corporate credit card, or three, can be a cost effective way of making quick and urgent purchases and, as long as everything is above board, and for council use, there shouldn't be a problem. Looking at these figures, which vary from between £7,000 to £17,000 per month, a considerable amount relates to rail travel and hotel bookings, the total for the period is a shade under £140,000.

We must assume that the books, gifts and tickets for Oakwood park, Alton Towers, Bristol Zoo, Millennium Stadium, Sally's Salon etc are for Youth Services, Looked after Children or schools. We hope so anyway.

Apparently the 'foreign' travel, which amounts to around £2500 for the period relates, "in the main"  to "statutory visits that social workers are required to make in relation to adoption cases" I'm not quite sure why, or where they have to go, but most trips seem to involve Dublin. Seems fair enough though.

It should always be remembered that these are just purchases and bookings made with the credit cards only. If, for instance, Members or officers were sent on a fact finding mission to research gambling licenses in Las Vegas, they're unlikely to use the credit card. Not that I'm suggesting they have of course.

I'm sure many of the train tickets and hotel stays would relate to conferences, dinners, or events attended by officers or members. I'm not certain though, given it's proximity to Carmarthen, why there are ten entries for Premier Inn Llanelli, four for the Emlyn Arms and assorted entries for the Ivy Bush Carmarthen, Glynhir Mansion, Ammanford and Stradey Park Hotel, Llanelli. Not sure who spent £47 in the 'Taste of Jabajak' in Whitland either.

The FOI officer helpfully explains that the "Narrative generated by Barclaycard, specifically “Drinking places (Alcoholic beverages)-Bars, Taverns, Nightclubs” against certain expenditure relates to the use of these premises as accommodation by Council staff on Council business" 
Ah, I see...

The amount spent on London hotels differs enormously with some clearly preferring a little luxury on their travels. The Holiday Inn, Bloomsbury retails between £200 to £300+ per night (£309 was spent on the card).

There was clearly quite a lot of travelling and hotel-staying in London in February 2013. In amongst a surge of train and hotel bookings from around the 13th onwards, was £5089 charged to the cards for rooms at two Park Plaza hotels. There was also a return trip to the Plaza on the 15th March.
That figure of £5089 included £2389 for one individual card carrying officer, at £439 per night.

Quite what was going on in London in February 2013, I couldn't possibly guess...especially as it's supposed to be limited to 'council staff on council business"....funnily enough I was also staying in London at exactly the same time but in distinctly less salubrious surroundings...

Park Plaza

Update 29th April;
Although there is nothing like the individual extravagance of London Feb 2013, the total spent on hotels/restaurants, of assorted quality, via credit cards in the next two financial years, ie April 2013 to March 2015 was £73,000, give or take a few quid.


Anonymous said...

Why exactly do the great and the good of the council get to stay in such luxurious surroundings. Is there nowhere else in London able of offer clean, functional and comfortable accomodation at a more reasonable rate? Have Premier Inn and Travelodge pulled out of our capital? Let's remember this is OUR money they are spending, not their own...

I was a witness at the libel trial, and was perfectly entitled to claim expenses incurred in discharging that duty. I didn't do so, mainly because I did not wish to add to Jacqui's bill.

Had I chosen to submit my expenses however, they would have been in the order of £100 - and comprised of fuel from South Yorkshire to London and back, with car parking thrown in. I left my home that morning at 0430 in the morning, drove to London, gave my evidence, and drove back. This is called minimising expense to the public purse (as I expected it to be when I set out) - and it's a concept some of your council officers might want to refamiliarise themselves with...

Anonymous said...

"There was also a return trip to the Plaza on the 15th March.
That figure of £5089 included £2389 for one individual card carrying officer, at £439 per night."

Come on. We all know what it was for, or at least can make an educated guess. However, it suggests more pi55 taking by a certain council chief executive, hmmm, wonder who that could be?

But the point here, suggests he probably had a good idea of the outcome given the choice of accommodation. Were he not so confident, perhaps a Premier Inn would have been his choice just incase he did lose and found himself having to defend not only his position but also fight for his job.

Sadly, that didn't happen, but perhaps there is a case here for misappropriation of council funds. We live in hope, but the more MJ gets away with things the more likely he is to come unstuck.

he is one arrogant [enter appropriate word here]

Teifion said...

Maybe if Council auditors who don't pick up corruption within councils due to closing blind eyes should also be held criminally responsible?
A bit like council officials that sack whistle blowers who raise concerns about paedophilia?

Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you Teifion these officers should be held criminally responsible for acting against the public interest. How I wish some of these (so loyal/scarred officials?) would actually take a leaf out of the whistleblowers book and shop the real instigators of coverup and misconduct and refuse to be coerced into supporting the wrongdoing of this TOXIC administration/leadership. Even if coerced in the past this should not stop them holding the CCC leadership to account as I'm sure most of us whistleblowers understand the methods used against anyone raising concerns. We do not live in a country where someone speaking out is silenced (permanently) though the threat of losing your position carries a lot of clout in this day and age. I have a copy of an affidavit signed by an ex employee of the previous community council/council our CEO worked. The police as far as I know have not checked out it's validity yet so I cannot expand on it's contents. (Personally I do not believe it to have been a hoax) But really, if you regret having been coerced into wrongdoing speak up while still employed & you should be more protected under PIDA, though you as an ex-employee, are still protected under PIDA if disclosing wrongdoing taking place when you were still employed; it would be a more constructive way of holding senior officers to account; maybe saving other councils from toxic influences. NO one can promise the police & CPS would overlook your part but they should take into account the pressure exerted on you by your superiors. This is where we need to be able to trust the police and CPS to work in the public interest and not in assisting other public services to cover up wrongdoing by ignoring evidence passed to them.

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)