PORTSMOUTH council officials have spent thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money on fast-food meals and snacks from bakeries, new figures have revealed.
Data released under the Freedom of Information Act shows the council forked out £6,381 on meals at McDonald’s, Burger King and Subway, while another £2,105 was paid out on snacks from bakeries, chiefly Greggs and Honeybuns.
The purchases were made on government procurement cards – credit cards that can be used by members of staff to pay for essential items.
The council says a lot of the cash was for key worker sessions with young people, where social workers meet with young people and take them for something to eat and drink.
Portsmouth Lib Dem leader Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson refused to be drawn into attacking the findings and instead defended the council’s spending.
He said: ‘It costs £2,000 a week to have a kid in care, in a kid’s home. So going to McDonald’s for a meal is not much, if that means you can keep a kid in a family and not have them taken into care.
‘By working with them in the community, that saves the council money.
‘It would be easy for me to take a pop at the council leader Cllr Donna Jones about this, but it’s about what is best for kids.’
Some of the money covered ‘subsistence’ expenditure by someone who attended off-site meetings on behalf of the council and needed something to eat.
Some bakery costs covered items to be re-sold in the council’s staff cafe, and others were associated with catering for foster carer training sessions.
Michael Lawther, the council’s deputy chief executive, said: ‘I understand people might be surprised to see a council spending money on these things, but there are simple explanations.
‘When you look at the totals they do seem like big numbers, but the majority of the transactions are only for small amounts. People may not realise that social workers will take young people for something to eat and let them choose the venue so they’re in the best environment to engage with them and build a successful rapport.It also covers a variety of other things, from buying items to sell in the staff café to some food expenses for travelling staff.’
The findings form part of a wider national report into council credit card spending.
Birmingham has been criticised after the figures showed its European and International Team was using procurement cards to spend freely on costly trips abroad. In September last year a delegation went to Hong Kong, clocking up £1,498 on their cards – not including travel or accommodation. One night they enjoyed a meal at the Motorino pizzeria in the Soho district of Hong Kong – which tempts customers with a brussels sprout pizza for £17 – and ran up substantial bills at the five-star Grand Hyatt Hotel.
John O’Connell, the chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “The average household has seen its council tax bill rise by 58 per cent in real terms across England since 1997, yet some hard-pressed families are having to dig deeper into their pockets as councils plead poverty. Taxpayers will be furious to see their hard-earned cash being wasted on designer lingerie, expensive restaurants and other experiences which the ordinary taxpayer cannot afford for themselves.’
He added: ‘Portsmouth residents haven’t seen a single tax cut since 1998, with their council tax going up on 13 occasions, so families will want to look very carefully at these statements.
‘It is somewhat ironic that on the one hand our authorities are quick to spend taxpayer-funded resources on healthy eating campaigns, while on the other hand spending taxpayers’ money on fast food.’