Taxpayers in Bristol have been footing the bill for council workers to stay in expensive hotels, eat at posh restaurants and buy designer clothes, the Bristol Post has learned.
Almost £680,000 was spent on Bristol City Council payment cards last year, with thousands of pounds spent on fast food, cinema trips, iTunes downloads and orders from online retailer Amazon.
Figures obtained by the Post under Freedom of Information rules show that in 2014, an average of Â£1,860 a day was spent on council procurement cards, which are used by council workers to pay for expenses like travel, office supplies and catering.
Thousands of transactions were made on the procurement cards last year, many of which included spending on essential services.
A spokesperson for the council said Â£32,400 spent in Asda paid for groceries to support people in respite care, and Â£10,000 spent in Ikea was to support tenants in high-needs accommodation.
But the council has failed to provide a proper explanation for a number of transactions shown in the statements – including Â£170 spent on a pair of designer UGG boots, Â£100 in a Ralph Lauren store in Barcelona and Â£44 in what appears to be a tattoo parlour.
Also included in the spending was a hefty bill of more than Â£4,200 on eating out, from meals at fast-food restaurants McDonalds and KFC to dinners at a number of Bristol’s upmarket restaurants, including Bordeaux Quay, Goldbrick House and Graze.
The statements also show that almost Â£10,000 was racked up in hotel bills. Included in the Â£9,664 for hotels was the Zaventem Hotel in Brussels and Hotel the Regal Amsterdam, as well as a number of hotels in the UK, including Hotel du Vin in Bristol, the Marriotts in London and Chepstow and the Kensington Close Hotel. Almost Â£2,250 was spent in Ibis hotels around the country.
More than £37,800 was spent online at Amazon, Â£686 was spent on iTunes downloads, and Â£4,746 was spent on EasyJet flights.
Those with access to procurement cards include senior managers or their PAs, some school head teachers, managers of care homes or social workers who need to supply goods to vulnerable people.
The council said applications for cards are treated on a case-by-case basis and approved if there was a “sound reason” or “business case”.
Councillor Geoff Gollop, Deputy Mayor of Bristol with responsibility for finance, said the figures needed to be looked at in context.
He said: “We have processes in place to reassure ourselves that corporate cards are used appropriately. Spending needs to be looked at in the context of the services the council provides whilst running a billion- pound business.
“For example, the vast majority of spending on retail, food or entertainment will be for services such as looking after children in care, tenants in high-needs accommodation, carer payments or as part of supportive programmes such as Troubled Families.”
Other payments made on the cards included Â£3,266 spent on cinema outings, which the council said covered trips for autistic children, multiple trips to Rileys Snooker Club for pupils at the St Matthias Pupil Referral Unit, and a one-off Â£189.50 payment to Gay Times magazine. The council insisted this figure was incorrect, and it actually spent Â£33 on a subscription to Diva magazine, a lesbian magazine, for its library service.
Mr Gollop said: “With the benefit of context, what you see is a council running its business, supporting vulnerable people and helping those who don’t always enjoy the same advantages as others.
“By using purchase cards we’re also buying goods and services more efficiently and keeping the costly administration of invoices down.”
Central government use of procurement cards is strictly monitored by the National Audit Office, but local authorities such as the city council are not routinely subjected to the same scrutiny.
Chief executive of the Taxpayers Alliance Jonathan Isaby said some of the payments revealed in the figures were “outrageous”.
“The council must come clean about why these payments have been made, because they appear to be totally inappropriate,” he said.
“Taxpayers hand over their hard-earned money to the council for essential services – not for swanky restaurants, trips to the offie and snooker outings.
“It is outrageous that taxpayers’ money is being used in this way and the Council must hold people accountable for the spending.”
Local Government Minister Kris Hopkins said: “Bristol City Council should be focusing its efforts on making sensible savings to keep Council Tax down and improve frontline services.
“We have increased transparency and accountability in the local government sector to expose waste, helping drive council savings, unlike under the bad old days of the last administration, where government credit cards were abused across the public sector with money being poured down the drain.”
Councillor Geoff Gollop, Deputy Mayor of Bristol
Goldbrick House restaurant where £554.89 was spent
Graze restaurant where £30.70 was spent