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Civil Servants In Scotland Made 58,000 Bank Card Transactions

Indians at UK - Nicola Sturgeon

Civil servants in Scotland used bank cards to make tens of thousands of purchases, including spending nearly £10,000 on VIP airport services. For a fee, former first minister Nicola Sturgeon, and her staff, were given fast-track security and access to lounges at UK and European airports. Other purchases on procurement cards included yoga classes and nail polish. The Scottish government said it could not comment on a first minister’s travel plans for security reasons. An official added that all spending on the cards was subject to “robust authorization and regular auditing arrangements”.

The Scottish government issues its senior staff with credit-card style electronic purchasing cards for buying goods and services up to a value of £5,000 per transaction. A summary of purchases over £500 is officially published, but Scottish Labour obtained a full breakdown detailing all values between September 2019 and August last year. BBC Scotland News has seen the data which included a payment of £4,182 on 8 September 2019 for hospitality and hotel accommodation at the five-star Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire. This is listed as being for Scottish Women and Girls in Sport and came prior to the Solheim Cup women’s golf tournament. A £856 payment for “hospitality with UK Sports Minister” at Gleneagles during the Solheim Cup also appeared.

Indians at UK - Nicola Sturgeon

The 58,000 transactions on the taxpayer funded cards also showed purchases of Edinburgh Festival tickets. A breakdown of the airport services paid for by the Scottish government for Ms Sturgeon and her staff highlighted transactions typically around the £500 mark. However, one entry for February 2020 showed the government spent £1,271 at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam on VIP services which included private security and passport checks, as well as lounge access. A total of £9,898 was spent on airport services for the former first minister, both in the UK and across Europe, between September 2019 and June last year.

UK government ministers have also previously used VIP airport services and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been accused of living an “A-list” lifestyle at taxpayers’ expense for his use of private jets. A total of £14.2m was spent on the Scottish government procurement cards over the near three-year period. One of the items was a set of heel stoppers – costing £24.99 – for Ms Sturgeon when she was giving a speech in Berlin in 2019 as there was concern her footwear would damage the venue’s historic floor.

What were the more unusual items bought?

  • a driving theory test for member of staff
  • china crockery for a meeting room
  • nail polish
  • a yoga class
  • a £1.59 leaving card
  • a £27 “homedisco” from eBay
  • and £272 on “wellington boots for inspections”

Among the books purchased by civil servants were six copies of “Women hold up half the sky” – a book of speeches by Ms Sturgeon, and a printed copy of the Scottish government’s own 2014 independence White Paper. A book about Marxism and 21 copies of “How to run a government so that citizens benefit and taxpayers don’t go crazy” were also purchased.

Indians at UK - 58000 Bank Card Transactions

The vast majority of the entries were for everyday purchases needed by civil servants and the period covering the Covid lockdown showed a large number of homeworking items, such as computer monitors. But elsewhere more than 3,000 entries in the list of purchases have no description against them. In addition, more than £25,000 of fraudulent transactions occurred on the cards and were flagged up by civil servants for refunds. Accidental purchases, including a vacuum cleaner and Amazon Prime memberships, that were refunded are also listed in the transactions.

‘Frivolous purchases’

Scottish Labour Finance spokesperson Michael Marra said: “These are the spending habits of an arrogant and entitled government with no regard for taxpayers. “The SNP government is frittering away public money on frivolous purchases and VIP treatment while services are stretched to breaking point. “The SNP must end the financial mismanagement that has plagued their government and start delivering for Scotland.”

A Scottish government spokesperson said it was “committed to delivering the best value for money for taxpayers”. They added: “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 are in place to monitor their use. “For security reasons we cannot comment on the first minister’s travel arrangements.”


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