While millions of Britons are struggling on shared dining tables or working from bedrooms, Whitehall staff have used taxpayers’ cash to buy top of the range kit for their home offices.
More than £10million has been spent across Government departments on working from home since the outbreak of the pandemic, according to a joint investigation by the Daily Mail and the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
HMRC alone used almost £4million of public taxes on working from home, with its staff spending £500,000 on transporting office furniture to employees’ homes. HMRC staff were also given an allowance of £80 for an office chair and £120 for a desk.
The Cabinet Office spent £11,554 on moving its staff home – including the purchase of a tailor-made designer Herman Miller Sayl chair for a cool £449.
While millions of Britons are struggling on shared dining tables or working from bedrooms, Whitehall staff have used taxpayers’ cash to buy top of the range kit for their home offices (file image)
The Cabinet Office spent £11,554 on moving its staff home – including the purchase of a tailor-made designer Herman Miller Sayl chair for a cool £449 (pictured)
Created by Swiss designer Yves Behar, the chair is described on the Herman Miller website as ‘the reference point in its class for quality, performance and design’, with ‘intelligent suspension back’ and ‘passive PostureFit sacral support’.
‘This is a classic case of Whitehall fiddling while Rome burned,’ said John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance. At a time when many businesses were struggling to stay afloat and taxpayers were facing economic ruin, bureaucrats were using their cash to kit out their studies and refurb their offices.
‘Taxpayer cash should never have been wasted on work from home comforts for mandarins.’
The Financial Conduct Authority spent more than £300,000. The Department for Education, Student Loans Company, Crown Prosecution Service, and care homes inspectorate the Care Quality Commission all spent over £100,000 each on working from home.
Freedom of Information (FOI) requests for the spending were submitted by the Mail and the TaxPayers’ Alliance in May before Boris Johnson began a short-lived back to work drive over the summer. It is unknown if any purchases were made during or since the Government’s campaign.
More than £10million has been spent across Government departments on working from home since the outbreak of the pandemic, according to a joint investigation by the Daily Mail and the TaxPayers’ Alliance (file image)
The Cabinet Office and other departments could well have spent much more on designer furniture.
They stated the most expensive item of furniture purchased to work from home, but not the quantity of items. Last month, it emerged that as few as one in 25 civil servants are now back at their desks in Whitehall.
The pandemic led to a dramatic decrease in the use of public transport, and Transport for London – heavily subsidised by the taxpayer – spent £583,000 for its staff to stay at home. Since March 10, it has spent £401,614 on laptops and £181,023 on mobile phones.
But it said in its response to the FOI: ‘We are unable to state whether these requests were… to facilitate working from home as these items may have been ordered regardless of the current restrictions in place.’
The Financial Conduct Authority spent £321,000 on facilitating staff working from home. It spent £6,058 to transport furniture from its East London headquarters – which underwent a £30million revamp in 2018 – to their homes.
On top of that, full time staff and contract workers at the City watchdog were given the option to claim up to £386 on expenses to enable working from home. Similarly, exam board regulator Ofqual spent £4,500 on working from home, including £270 on a SIHOO Ergonomic Office Chair. Its design is based on the ‘human body dynamic digital model’.
And Defra spent £1,039 on an electric desk, the Yo-yo Desk Pro 2+, which facilitates sitting or standing. Civil service chief Alex Chisholm told MPs in September that some civil servants may never go back to the office, predicting that working from home will become a ‘permanent feature’ of Government departments.
A TfL spokesman said: ‘Without the correct equipment, our staff could not perform their critical duties safely and effectively. They have ensured key workers have been able to continue moving around the city… and are now helping support London’s recovery.
‘In line with the latest Government guidance that has once again had to ask all those who can to work from home, having access to the right equipment in order to work efficiently is essential’. HMRC said it had one of the largest workforces, and therefore a proportionately larger bill to move staff home.
£50,000 on hipster food takeaways…
A hipster restaurant was paid £50,000 of taxpayer cash to supply Matt Hancock’s Health Department with Filipino food in the first weeks of the pandemic.
Bong Bong’s Manila Kanteen in East London, which has a food van it calls Honey Boo Boo, serves dishes including ginger pork belly, glazed chicken wings and aubergine curry.
Nine orders were made by the Health Department in April at an average of £4,817 per spend, totalling £43,348.96.
A hipster restaurant was paid £50,000 of taxpayer cash to supply Matt Hancock’s Health Department with Filipino food in the first weeks of the pandemic
Bong Bong’s Manila Kanteen in East London, which has a food van it calls Honey Boo Boo, serves dishes including ginger pork belly, glazed chicken wings and aubergine curry
In March, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spent £4,179.72 at the restaurant, which calls customers ‘Bongerz’.
As part of its home delivery service, the restaurant offered a ‘Kamayan Feast’ box for two diners to share, including a crispy fragrant pork belly, chicken adobo and creamed coconut.
An app for stressed staff
The Cabinet Office has commissioned an exclusive ‘Digital Wellness’ platform for its frazzled staff – at a cost of more than £100,000 to taxpayers.
The three-year deal is to create a tailored app featuring ‘breathing exercises’, ‘mindfulness and meditation sessions’, ‘stress management’ and a ‘personal journal… to allow individuals to track their own thoughts and feelings in relation to wellbeing’.
The £102,456 contract was awarded to Unmind Ltd in early July. In the contract, the Cabinet Office states that it is ‘not expected that every member of staff signed up to the platform will be an active user’. But it commissioned ‘interactive elements to ensure it is… engaging’.
Unmind stated the app would provide ‘signposting to critical support networks’ such as crisis helplines. On its website, the workplace mental health firm says its platform also allows employees to offer ‘expressions of gratitude’ to their colleagues. The Cabinet Office declined to comment.
In response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request – part of a joint investigation by the Daily Mail and the TaxPayers’ Alliance – the DHSC said the food was ordered in to its headquarters in Victoria, central London.
Bong Bong’s is more than five miles away, in Bethnal Green.
The restaurant refused to say if it used the van for the deliveries.
The first order arrived as Boris Johnson announced the national lockdown and the pandemic spiralled out of control.
That week, after the first two doctors died from coronavirus, frontline workers complained that they were ‘lambs to the slaughter’, following the Health Department’s failure to provide enough PPE, or meet its daily testing target.
In the same week, pharmacies were hit by shortages of painkillers and thermometers, 1.5 million vulnerable people were delivered food parcels by the Army and the first ‘Clap for Carers’ took place.
The DHSC spokesman said: ‘The department led the Government’s response to the pandemic and during lockdown we had key workers in the office from early in the morning until late at night.
‘These purchases were necessary to ensure staff working shifts were able to access hot food when other catering options were unavailable during lockdown, until alternative arrangements could be made.’
They added: ‘All departmental spend is in line with approved Government processes.’
Nine orders were made by the Health Department in April at an average of £4,817 per spend, totalling £43,348.96
And snouts in some VERY posh troughs…
Succulent steaks and creamy curries – Whitehall certainly knows how to enjoy a meal out.
Particularly when someone else is footing the bill: the taxpayer, that is.
Ranging from the Cabinet Office to the Department for International Trade, staff have been happy to treat themselves to meals at luxury restaurants in recent months.
The findings come from analysis of Government procurement cards, similar to credit cards. Spending must be declared if over £500.
Succulent steaks and creamy curries – Whitehall certainly knows how to enjoy a meal out. Pictured is The Delauney in Covent Garden
The analysis follows the Government’s unsightly row over whether to provide free school meals to children from low-income families during the holidays. Ministers capitulated this month, agreeing a £170million Covid winter grant scheme to support vulnerable families.
These are the highlights of Whitehall’s dining bills:
Cabinet Office – £1,000
Staff enjoyed a lavish meal at The Delaunay in Covent Garden, which serves seared sea bass for £24.50 and 28-day aged 8oz ribeye steak for £32.
Society magazine Tatler praised it in a review, saying: ‘Few restaurants are grander.’
£900K for Libyan project
A not-for-profit organisation was paid almost a million pounds to investigate Covid-19 and the pandemic’s ‘effects on women’s rights in Libya’.
Libya has so far suffered fewer than 1,100 coronavirus deaths compared with Britain’s 54,600.
The £912,455 year-long contract was awarded to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
The IWPR states on its site that its ‘network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic’.
The Institute would not comment on the project with the FCDO, given in late July, other than to say it is ‘in launch’.
Last year the British Embassy to Libya hosted seven Libyan organisations working on the IWPR’s UK-funded gender equality programme. The FCDO declined to comment
The staff meal was logged as ‘conference services’ in March.
Officials declined to answer whether alcohol was bought.
LONDON SCOTTISH HOUSE
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – £2,003
Defra hired one of the grand rooms in the historic Scottish House for a ‘working dinner in a private room for 20 people for one day’ for the Natural England board in December.
The spend covered a private bar, chef and service staff. Defra declined to comment.
THE CINNAMON CLUB
Business Department – £634.50
Set in the Grade II-listed former Westminster Library, the Cinnamon Club is an institution in the world of Indian fine dining, serving a tasting menu with wine for £170 per person.
It is understood it was hired as an external venue as a Business Department conference centre was not available.
MILLER AND CARTER STEAKHOUSE
Department for International Trade – £1,343.10
It is not known which branch of this renowned chain staff ate at but sources indicated that this meal was for an event on 11 February to increase UK trade and investment.
The Department for International Trade refused to comment.
Ranging from the Cabinet Office to the Department for International Trade, staff have been happy to treat themselves to meals at luxury restaurants in recent months. Pictured: A Miller and Carter steak
Department for International Trade – £899.99
This is a hipster American diner in the achingly trendy Hoxton Hotel, serving chorizo macaroni and cheese for £14.
The DfIT declined to comment about the event here, which took place in January.
CAFE IN THE CRYPT
Business Department – £1,100
The cafe, with original brick-vaulted ceilings, is below St-Martin-In-The-Fields church.
It serves sweet treats and sandwiches, with meat from Swaledale Butchers and cheese from Neal’s Yard Dairy.
Department officials declined to comment.