By Bill Heaney
It seems not to matter which side of the political fence they are on – or whether they are common five-eight civil servants – the men and women who work out of Holyrood have taken their seats on a gravy train worth many £millions and counting.
Dumbarton MSP Dame Jackie Baillie, deputy leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, has just had a dossier worth its weight in political publicity gold land on her desk.
It details how our “trusted” civil servants and senior members of the SNP government have had their gobs in the very deep trough that allows Scottish Government credit card spending to be abused by the suits and skirts – it used to be bowler hats and pinstripe trousers – who are entrusted with running the country.
The contents of the dossier, which has shown that £14 million has been spent using the credit card, which has become a golden ticket to take taxpayers for a ride, over a period of just three years.
First Minister Humza Yousaf is so concerned about it that said he has promised to ask ask the government’s top civil servant to check if the rules are sufficiently “robust” to allow this spending spree to continue.
Holyrood parliament, FM Humza Yousaf, Nicola Sturgeon, Bisto kids and VIP flights.
He said this scandal was ongoing before he had the top SNP job: “These were spends that were made a number of years ago, between 2019 and 2022. 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 and potentially by government ministers?
“I will ask the Permanent Secretary [John-Paul Marks] to just review, ‘Do we have the right procedures in place when it comes to spend?’.”
Civil servants spent almost £10,000 on government-issued bank cards on VIP airport services all over Europe for former first minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Some of the more unusual purchases included yoga classes, nail polish and Edinburgh Festival tickets.
It also includes purchasing six copies of “Women Hold Up Half the Sky”, a book of speeches by Nicola Sturgeon of unhappy memory; a printed copy of the government’s own 2014 independence white paper; a book on Marxism, and 21 copies of “How to Run a Government so that Citizens Benefit and Taxpayers Don’t Go Crazy”.
They may have bought the book but it seems obvious none of them paid much attention to the advice on “How to Run a Government so that Citizens Benefit and Taxpayers Don’t Go Crazy”.
The First Minister said: “Civil servants reading books about governing well – it’s not a bad thing.
“I quite like my civil servants to read. But I do take the point. I think I saw some items on it, on the spend that was mentioned… I can understand why people have got questions.
“I will ask the Permanent Secretary to take a look at this. Do we have the robust rules in place when it comes to that kind of spend.”
Civil servants spent almost £10,000 on government-issued bank cards on VIP airport services all over Europe for former first minister Nicola Sturgeon who has become Not so Nippy Nicola these days.
Some of the more unusual purchases included yoga classes, nail polish and Edinburgh Festival tickets. Mind you, she always looked smart although I am reliably informed she has toned that down these days without actually confining herself to sackcloth and ashes.
Dame Jackie, LEFT, and her colleagues in Scottish Labour last night claimed the spending shows the SNP is “frittering away public money on frivolous purchases”.
The Scottish Government issues senior staff with credit card style electronic purchasing cards for buying goods and services of up to £5,000 per transaction.
A summary of all purchases over £500 was published previously, but Dame Jackie and Scottish Labour have now obtained a full breakdown of all purchases made over the three-year period.
This includes £9,898 on airport services for former first minister Ms Sturgeon in UK and European airports.
There was also £1,271 spent at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam on VIP services in February 2020, including private security and passport checks, and lounge access.
Other purchases include £4,182 on 8 September 2019 for hospitality and accommodation at the luxury five-star Gleneagles Hotel. This was just before the Solheim Cup women’s golf tournament at the resort, and the expenses included a £856 payment for “hospitality with UK sports minister”.
There are lots of taxpayers who would consider that out of bounds given the state of Scotland’s finances.
Some of the more unusual purchases listed included a driving theory test for a member of staff, china crockery for a meeting room, nail polish, a yoga class, a £1.59 leaving card, a £27 home disco from eBay, £272 for wellington boots, and £24.99 for heel stoppers at an event involving Ms Sturgeon in Berlin.
During the coronavirus lockdown there were a large number of home-working items purchased , such as computer monitors.
Beyond this, there were 3,000 items which had no description, and £25,000 fraudulent transactions occurred on the cards, which were flagged up by civil servants for refunds.
Accidental purchases which went on to be refunded were also listed, including for a vacuum cleaner and Amazon Prime memberships.
More news of this today (Wednesday) was revealed when Humza Yousaf looked to make light of some of the items on the £14 million credit card bill.
Details emerged just before the First Minister was due to be interviewed live on Matt Forde’s Fringe show. It was revealed that money was spent on trips to the likes of Edinburgh Zoo, pottery painting and even laser tag.
Bureaucrats also enjoyed tours of Edinburgh on the bus and on a canal boat, bowling, curling and crazy golf while Nicola Sturgeon was first minister.
The cards were also used to pay for an official’s driving theory test, China crockery for a meeting room, a £27 “home disco” from eBay and £272 on “Wellington boots for inspections”.
A spokesperson for the government said it was committed to delivering the best value for money for taxpayers.
They 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.”
He didn’t comment when asked if he thought they were robust enough.
They added: “For security reasons we cannot comment on the first minister’s travel arrangements.”