For months now the Tories and Labour have each been trying to out-do the other by revealing embarrassing examples of spending. Labour has generated the odd story about pot plants, biscuits and tellies by using written parliamentary questions to get departments to spill the beans. Eric Pickles’s Department for Local Government has never played ball and replies by flagging up how much Labour spent in government; thereby reminding the public of those Halcyon days. Yesterday’s response to one of Hilary Benn’s questions was a classic of the genre:

‘Hilary Benn: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what his Department’s (a) catering and(b) hospitality budget was in (i) 2012 and (ii) 2013.

Brandon Lewis: My Department has no separate budget for catering and hospitality in 2012 and 2013.

To assist the right hon. Member, I would note that this Government has dramatically cut spending compared to the last Labour Government and put in place far tighter rules and restrictions on spending:

The Department spent £553,230 on catering and hospitality in 2008-09, and £456,142 in 2009-10. By 2012-13, spending had been reduced to £58,882 (plus £16,727 of delayed billing from the year before). We anticipate spending in the region of £36,000 in the year 2013-14 (the precise figure will be audited at financial year end).

The expenditure undertaken is essentially for light refreshments for a large number of small official events such as: European Regional Development Fund events (meetings with external visitors and Local Management Committee meetings); Conferences and workshops with representatives of local government, housing, planning and local communities; Public roadshows and Portas Pilot events; All-day recruitment assessment centres, training and induction courses.

We do not routinely incur any expenditure on refreshments for Ministers other than “de minimis” expenditure on tea and coffee for Ministers’ meetings with external visitors, or on the rare occasion when Ministers undertake overnight stays on official business outside London.

Our departmental saving has also been assisted by terminating ministerial group spending on Government Procurement Cards, as practiced by the Labour Government at taxpayers’ expense at the likes of Sky City Casino, the Cinnamon Club, the Wolseley, Brasserie 44, Boisdales, Inn the Park, Mango Tree, Shepherds, Incognico, Buffalo Bar, Mr Chu’s China Palace, Tantric Jazz and Fat Tuesdays.

We have showed that there is considerable scope for the public sector to generate significant savings in this area, as evident from the ongoing saving of up to half a million pounds a year.

To place our savings in context, as noted in the answer of 8 April 2014, Official Report, House of Lords, column 270WA, when the right hon. Member was Secretary of State, he spent £444,891 on catering, hospitality and refreshments in 2008-09 and £552,367 in 2009-10.

I know that the right hon. Member has a particular interest in biscuits, so to help quantify this amount, his spending in his last year in office is equivalent today to buying 720,479 packets of Jammie Dodgers from Waitrose (albeit, with a free cup of coffee thrown in).’

Slam dunk. Please let that be the end of this long running game.

Tags: Hilary Benn, UK politics