The UK Government has dismissed claims made by the SNP in a row over hospitality spending at the Scotland Office as ‘utter nonsense’.
Nationalists accused Tory ministers of “partying on the public purse” as the party highlighted figures which it said showed spending at the department on hospitality had risen from £8,987 in 2015-16 to £61,641.73 in 2016-17 – a near seven-fold increase.
Deidre Brock, MP for Edinburgh North and Leith, described the spending as lavish and questioned how it could be justified at a time of wider cuts to public services.
But the Scotland Office said the SNP was not comparing like-for-like and insisted the most recent figure reflected its total spend on all events, such as stakeholder engagement and roundtable business meetings, rather than social functions.
A spokesman told The Scotsman that total spending on events in 2015/16 was £58,078.95, which rose slightly to £61,188.38 the following year.
The SNP has long argued the role of the Scotland Office is redundant in the era of devolution, and has previously called for it to be scrapped.
“With devolution the Scotland Office has become a redundant zombie department, yet the Scottish secretary has the taxpayer’s credit card out again, and is splashing our hard-earned cash on posh canapes, fizzy wine, and entertainment – at a time when Tory cuts are forcing many families to rely on foodbanks and emergency aid just to feed their children,” Brock said.
“Of course some government events can represent value for money, but David Mundell’s spending on posh parties is clearly getting out of control and it is Scotland’s taxpayers that are having to pick up the bill.”
A UK Government spokesperson said: “Claims that there have been a sevenfold increase in hospitality spend are utter nonsense. The £61,000 figure being bandied around as hospitality is actually spend on events and stakeholder engagement to gather views from within Scotland, champion Scotland’s interests at the heart of Whitehall and promote Scotland’s interests across the whole of the UK and overseas.
“The role of the Scotland Office and its Ministers is more important than ever as we work to strengthen our economy and ensure Scotland is ready for Brexit. Events the UK Government has supported include the Royal Highland Show to meet with food and farming sectors and business roundtable meetings. It is right that we effectively engage and communicate with the public and stakeholders on how the UK Government is delivering for Scotland and we do so while ensuring value for taxpayers’ money.”