Wining and dining costs stay secret

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Published: Tuesday 30th December 2014 by The News Editor

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The Government is refusing to disclose David Cameron’s bill for wining and dining celebrities, politicians and other prominent figures at his grace-and-favour country home.

The Cabinet Office insists “centralised” records mean it would be too expensive to provide details of the Prime Minister’s spending at Chequers, and that of his Lib Dem deputy Nick Clegg at Chevening.

The refusal came after a Freedom of Information request by the Press Association, asking for official hospitality costs at the residences over the past five years.

A list of people hosted by the PM and Mr Clegg at public expense is published quarterly. The latest disclosure for January to March this year shows that Mr Cameron dined with the Queen and supermodel Claudia Schiffer among others.

However, no costs have been released for the hospitality. Under the Labour government a global figure was issued for spending on official entertainment at Downing Street and Chequers, but that now appears to have been dropped.

Responding to the FOI request, the Cabinet Office said it did not keep material “in a way that readily facilities extraction”.

“The information is not categorised by event as such, which means that it is not readily identifiable from the database which entry relates to what type of expense,” the department said. “Attempting to fulfil your request would therefore mean searching through the records of individual transactions to identify which of those were in scope.”

Some of the relevant documents could be in paper archives that would have to be couriered in to be studied by officials.

The offices of the PM and DPM would also apparently have to be consulted about every invoice.

The Cabinet Office said as a result of the “centralised system” for entertainment costs it would only be able to consider providing information covering “weeks” rather than months or years.

The Information Commissioner has rebuked the department for mishandling the request. It initially stated that it would publish the information, before saying a response had been sent in error.

However, the commissioner accepted that the way the records were kept meant it would take officials a long time to extract the details, busting the £600 cost limit under Section 12 of the Act.

Andy Silvester of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said the situation was “absurd”.

“It will strike voters as thoroughly absurd that this information is difficult to find,” he said. “In a world of online banking that allows people to find out what they spent on a jumper three years ago, it’s ludicrous that the Government’s record-keeping could lag so far behind.

Published: Tuesday 30th December 2014 by The News Editor

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