John Prescott's department is said to have spent £52,000 in Government Procurement Card charges for lavish hotels and fine restaurant meals in a ten-month period. At a Fat Tuesdays restaurant in Ottawa, there was a bill for three figures. In a transaction from luxury jeweler Links of London, the department spent almost £650.
The charges started shortly after former Labour cabinet minister Lord Prescott was given 18 staff and his own Office of Deputy Prime Minister. This followed the politician being stripped of his ministerial duties over local government, planning and housing in May 2006. Between May of that year and February 2007, over £52,000 was charged to Whitehall credit cards. However, records can only be dug up for about £38,722 worth of the transactions. Then-head of the Civil Service Lord O'Donnell wrote to Lord Prescott, confirming that all the spending was legitimate, for the exception of seven transactions that were charged on an illegally cloned card.
Just days after being stripped of his ministerial portfolio, Lord Prescott visited Montreal to give a climate change speech. Someone with access to a credit card issued to the department spent £106.99 at a Fat Tuesdays restaurant in Ottawa. In the same city, someone charged £3,253.62 for the Chateau Laurier hotel.
Some of the receipts revealed lavish hotel charges, like a £547 spend on the London Eye and too expensive meals. There's one unexplained entry on October 20, 2006 for £649.50 at Links of London. A card user also charged a £440.25 tab on the same day from London's Marriott hotel. The politician's staff enjoyed five-star hotel stays in cities from Brussels to Beijing and Istanbul to Kuala Lumpur as well. They spent £60,000 on 11 trips to the US, Canada, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malaysia, China, South Korea and Japan.
Local government minister Bob Neill released the details in a parliamentary answer to senior Lib Dem MP Sir Alan Beith. It's understood that Lord Prescott insists he didn't use the credit card for personal reasons. However, critics question if he's a suitable candidate to be Humberside's police commissioner. In such a post, he would control a big budget, and there are concerns about how this will turn out if he failed to get tough on excessive spending by his own officials. Tory MPs have called on Lord Prescott to assure them that he wouldn't be casual with taxpayers' money if was put back into public office.
Local government minister Grant Shapps says it appears Lord Prescott's department went on a long farewell tour of some of the finest catering establishments in the world, which was paid for by taxpayers. These revelations raise a serious question: if Prescott is the right person to take over a multimillion pound police budget, considering his arrogant attitude towards public funds, he added.
Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke says these spending figures show that Lord Prescott was too casual with public money, and now he stands to be a police commissioner. How do they know he will be more careful with taxpayers' money and effective with the police budget in the future. He also needs to explain the spending at Links of London and the London Eye - if it was for public or personal reasons - he added.