New Scottish civil service spending controversy as almost £33,000 spent on 'away days'

Thousands of pounds was spent on government-issued bank cards for trips to the pub, bowling alleys and Edinburgh Zoo
St Andrew's House, headquarters of the Scottish Government in Edinburgh. Picture: PASt Andrew's House, headquarters of the Scottish Government in Edinburgh. Picture: PA
St Andrew's House, headquarters of the Scottish Government in Edinburgh. Picture: PA

Bank card-style spending by civil servants makes “uncomfortable reading”, a Scottish minister has said after new transaction details were unveiled

Thousands was spent on trips to the pub, bowling alleys, and a day out at Edinburgh Zoo, with civil servants spending almost £33,000 on away days on government-issued bank cards between September 2019 and August 2022.

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First Minister Humza Yousaf yesterday said he would instruct permanent secretary John Paul Marks – the most senior civil servant – to conduct a review into the spending.

The Scottish Government issues senior staff with credit card style electronic purchasing cards for buying goods and services, and up to £5,000 can be spent on each transaction.

A summary of all purchases over £500 was officially published, but Scottish Labour has obtained a full breakdown, showing 58,000 different transactions worth £14.2 million were made over the three year period.

This included nearly £10,000 for former first minister Nicola Sturgeon and her team to use VIP airport services, and over £4,000 for hospitality and accommodation at the luxury Gleneagles Hotel.

New details of the bank card spending have now emerged, showing £32,995 was spent on away days for civil servants, including bowling, pottery lessons and yoga classes.

This includes a bill for over £2,000 to hire out part of Edinburgh Zoo in 2019, and £1,693 for an away day at the Seamill Hydro Hotel in Ayrshire in 2022.

A further £435 was paid to a craft pottery firm for an event, and in September 2019 £375 was spent on a bill at Brewhemia in Edinburgh, one of Scotland’s largest pubs.

Other activities included trips to bowling alleys, escape rooms and crazy golf.

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In 2019 an away day activity saw civil servants purchasing ping pong balls, chocolate mice, play dough and paper planes on these bank cards.

Addressing the spending on Good Morning Scotland on Wednesday, Wellbeing Economy Secretary Neil Gray said the First Minister was right to order a review into the spending.

He said: “Obviously the reports, some of them, make for uncomfortable reading and the First Minister has instituted the review from the most senior civil servant in Scotland – the permanent secretary – to ensure that the use of credit cards by senior civil servants is appropriate and continues to have the stringent checks and balances in place to ensure that there is good value brought for public money.

“The use of credit cards by senior civil servants obviously is used by many other governments and with releases of other information by the governments at other times, including the Welsh Government, more recently.

“Obviously there becomes greater public scrutiny and questions as to sometimes its appropriateness.

“So I think it is right that the First Minister has asked the Permanent Secretary to ensure that the processes that are in place are robust and to ensure public spending continues to be fair and balanced going forward.”

Speaking to comedian Matt Forde during an Edinburgh Fringe show, he said: “It’s fair to ask the questions that people are asking about. Was this item spent? Why was it spent? Why was it bought by the civil service?

“I will ask the permanent secretary to just review, ‘do we have the right procedures in place when it comes to spend’.”

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He added: “I noticed one of the headlines around security through airports and so on, which again is fair for people to ask a question.

“We absolutely have to be mindful of every penny and every pound that we spend, but we’ve also got to be mindful of people’s security.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Spending through electronic purchasing cards is used to support government officials during their usual course of work such as on training, catering, room hire and one-off supplies.

“The cards are not for personal expenditure and there are robust authorisation and regular auditing arrangements in place to monitor their use.”



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