Monday, October 27, 2008

Home Office civil servants spend 323 years a year living in hotels

Well I'm back from illness and decided to start the week with a little light skim of Hansard and I'm now feeling quite ill again. The DUP MP, David Simpson has been asking questions about how much departments spend on hotel accommodation and for some of them it's staggering.

Starting at the bottom, we have the Wales and Scotland Offices, spending £24,875 and £38,053 respectively in the last year. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport tops them by spending £43,748 in a year.

However, the next leap is quite a big one, with Hazel Blears' De[partment for Communities and Local Government spending £482,887. I;m guessing it wasn't a Travel Inn or dodgy B&B.

It's the Home Office though that really made me feel quite ill. They managed to spend, on hotel accommodation in one year, £5,790,000. That's equivalent to around 118,163 nights at a Travel Inn, or just short of 324 years.

Obviously these are civil servants though so they probably go up market and stay somewhere like the Grosvenor. In that case it's around 24,225 nights with a single (cheap) room, or just over 66 years.


Anonymous said...

Is this another one of your 'Jokes of the day' isn't it? Ha ha ha, you don't fool me...

Anonymous said...

I am rarely one to support prolifigate spending by HM Government, but I wonder if the Home Office is adversely affected by having to fund accommodation for specialist police teams sent to difficult investigations?

Such as finding somewhere to house Scotland Yard's terrorism specialists when in Bristol etc.

It might work out cheaper in the long run to buy some flats and let visiting staff use those though - as many companies tend to do if they regularly have visiting employees visiting an office.

Anonymous said...

Anyone else here thinking that blowing the HP sky high at 12.15pm next week Wednesday would be a good idea?

Then we can start again from scratch.

Conand said...

The Home Office figure backs up the argument that it would be more cost effective to just pay the worst criminals to live on the Costas.

Anonymous said...

I've no problem with drawing attention to government wastage but as an ex-civil servant myself I'd be surprised if these figures are because officials are choosing to stay in expensive hotels. Such things were seldom possible (except in special circumstances - eg Brussels - see below) but certainly budgetary pressures in recent decades have increasingly imposed constraints on accomodation spend.

In my own Dept (DTI in those days) we started by having overnight allowances - basically depending on the officer's "grade". These would pay for a cheapish hotel. Overseas the rates were a bit more generous - and in places where lots of officials were going for meetings (eg Brussels) there were bulk rates negotiated with quite expensive hotels - eg the Metropole, Europa.

Most officials in the UK looked for the cheapest hotel they could find and either pocketed any savings from the overnight allowance or, more common, spent it on a decent meal. If you "had" to stay somewhere more expensive you had to make a case for it, though in those days managers were not too difficult to convince, they had no direct budget responsibility.

In DTI from the 1980s onwards, though, budgets were managed much more actively. Managers started to manage resources. Officials were under sensible pressure to justify travel and accommodation expenses and the old grade-linked allowances could not just be assumed. Then the whole accommodation deal was passed over to an agency that offered a limited range of relatively modest hotels in any location - all of whom had negotiated budget deals - and this was much more likly to be a Travel Inn than anything plusher! Again you had to argue a case for not using a hotel on the agency's list.

Some departments may still be in a budgetary dark age but less and less, I'd have thought, giving pressures from the National Audit Office.

The only area I know where there don't seem to be sensible controls is that of training courses, conferences, team events etc* - where the accommodation is booked centrally often in quite upmarket places - but I wonder if such uses of accommodation actually covered by these statistics.

* Actually I benefit from this: I sit on an unpaid advisory body for a small quango whose members are themselves unpaid. We gather twice a year for a residential meeting. It's in a decent hotel and there is a decent dinner. But if I'm going to give two days of free consultancy and spend a night away from home then a nice hotel and a good dinner doesn't seem unreasonable!

Anonymous said...

Good idea IanVisits; especially as houses and flats are more affordable now. They would be adding impetus to the housing market as well, possibly helping those who are behind in payments to release their house rather than have it repossessed.

Old BE said...

How much does it work out per HO employee per year out of interest?

Surely massive cost savings could be had *overnight* by forcing everyone to stay in the cheapest available accomodation. They may not like it, but don't they know there's a recession on?

Anonymous said...

Anon probably has a point. Would be interesting to know WHICH civil servants are running up these bills (and in the case of the Home Office, whether it includes non-civil servant accommodation ie hostels for asylum seekers, etc).

Certainly, when I was in the civil service, the average civil servant didn't have a huge allowance. For example, in 2005, the overnight allowance I got for a work trip to Paris was £60 for accommodation & meals.