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Council quizzed over £4.6million bill from credit cards
COUNTY council bosses are being quizzed over the authority’s spending - after it was revealed staff have spent £4.6million with council-issued payment cards over the past 18 months.
The figure emerged following a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
Payment cards are issued to stop employees from using their own money on council purchases and having to claim it back later in the form of expenses.
The FOI request revealed 51,421 purchases were made over the 18-month period, racking up a total of £4,621,001.50.
Bridgwater county councillor Leigh Redman has written to Cllr John Osman, leader of Somerset County Council, voicing his concerns about the figures.
He said: “The scale of spending, and in particular through those means, raises some questions about the checks and balances made regarding council staff expenses.”
The highest purchase was for replacement PDAs and tablet PCs for highways inspectors – a total of £14,834.80. The old equipment was considered obsolete after years of use.
However, the smallest transaction was just 1p, to establish an account with suppliers such as Apple. The smallest purchase was 12p on music downloads made by a school.
There were a total of 849 cards issued over the past 18 months, but currently there are 811 card holders – 748 of which are actually active.
The rest are cards which have been damaged, lost or needed to be replaced.
A list of the areas the cards were held in included Briar Court, Bridgwater, Bridgwater Library, Camden Road, Geen House, the Enterprise Resource Centre in Bridgwater and a range of Bridgwater schools.
In his letter, Cllr Redman asked Cllr Osman if the interest charged on 811 cards is less than the cost of processing a monthly expenses system.
He wrote: “At a time when every household budget is under strain with the rising cost of living and falling wages, families across our county are monitoring their outgoings carefully.
“I am sure you will therefore be as keen as I to reassure Somerset taxpayers that their money is being spent efficiently and prudently by the council.”
The sort of items the cards are used for include TV licensing, stationary, travel expenses, computer equipment, catering and more.
A SCC spokesman said: “A credit card is a far cheaper and efficient way of buying goods, particularly for our schools, children’s centres and other local offices which make up the bulk of the holders.
“They are simply a tool for budgeted spending, and controls on their use are vigorous.
“The cost of processing every purchase order and paying an invoice is reckoned by the Government to be about £28, compared to the negligible cost of a credit card purchase.
“In fact, not only do our cards have a zero annual fee, we also have a cashback deal that earned us £6,100 last year.”
HOW it works:
Before a unit is allowed a card they must seek approval from the senior finance managers of their service and nominate potential card holders. They are given a briefing of responsibilities and a handbook and are reviewed periodically.
As purchases are made, the card holder is required to record the expenditure on a logsheet and obtain the necessary receipts.
At the end of each month the card holder and County Hall receive an itemised statement from the bank. The cardholder and the manager are expected to check this detail against the logsheet. If there are any anomalies they must notify the council immediately. The logsheet must then be authorised by the line manager before it is passed to finance staff for processing.
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