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Shapps leaps on Audit Commission dinner bill

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The local government spending watchdog has come under fire after using taxpayers’ money to pay for a £770 board dinner.

The Audit Commission used an official government credit card to pay for the meal at the upmarket Bentley’s seafood restaurant in central London.

The latest information from the body shows that government procurement cards were used to pick up the tab for meals totalling almost £1,300 at restaurants in the capital over the last 18 months.

Local government minister Grant Shapps, left, condemned the body’s “casual attitude to raiding the public purse”.

The latest revelation follows sharp criticism of the watchdog for spending thousands on fine dining and hotels.

The government plans to disband the commission, which monitors the spending of local authorities and other public bodies, as part of its “bonfire of the quangos”.

In a reply to a parliamentary question from Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen, the watchdog’s chief executive Eugene Sullivan said: “Audit Commission staff regularly stay overnight in London while attending meetings at the Commission’s Millbank office, or meeting with clients including other inspectorates, government departments and representative bodies in the London area.”

Figures for the last 18 months show a bill for £96.75 for hospitality to then chief secretary to the Treasury, Labour’s Liam Byrne, who left a flippant note to his successor following the general election saying “there’s no money left”.

Mr Byrne was entertained by the Commission at the five-star Sofitel St James hotel.

Ofsted’s chief inspector was taken out for a meal at Westminster’s Quirinale restaurant at a cost of £87.69, Mr Sullivan’s letter revealed.

A number of smaller bills for staff meals at restaurants including London branches of Pizza Express, Garfunkel’s and Bella Italia were also paid for on government procurement cards over the last 18 months.

But the figures do not include meals added to hotel bills of Audit Commission staff staying in the city.

An Audit Commission spokeswoman defended the use of public funds to pay for the board dinner.

She said: “In common with other national organisations, our board members travel from across the country for board meetings.

“The board dinner provided both an evening meal and an opportunity for informal discussion of Commission matters outside the formal board meeting.”

But Mr Shapps said: “The Audit Commission’s penchant for fine dining has cost the taxpayer thousands and thousands of pounds.

“Yet again we see another example of the commission’s casual attitude to raiding the public purse without a second thought.

“I would like to know the business case for spending money in this way.”

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