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HSE response to Daily Telegraph query about government procurement card spend

HSE response to article:
"Health and safety's £6m shopping bill" - The Telegraph, 3 October 2011
Response date:
03 October 2011

General statement

An HSE spokesperson said:

"As an organisation, a small number of designated staff are authorised to use the procurement cards on behalf of HSE. The cards are used in line with strict policies about appropriate spending, in line with Treasury guidance, and purchases monitored closely.

"The GPC allows HSE to pay for purchases in a controlled, secure and efficient way. Payment with this card has many benefits, including securing discounts that would not be available otherwise and making sure that suppliers are paid promptly.

"Our internal audit and checks confirm that the cards are being used properly, in line with our procurement policy, in support of work to improve health and safety in Britain.

"The Treasury encourages departments to make more use of the procurement cards and to switch payment from traditional methods such as invoicing, as this improves efficiency and reduces costs. HSE has been successful in switching payment methods as encouraged by this central Government guidance, which is why expenditure has risen in this time period. It is worth noting that HSE's net operating costs as a whole reduced by £29m (13%) in 2010/11 compared to 2009/10, so an increase in spending on the GPC is not indicative of an increase in spending as a whole, just a move to a more cost-efficient method of payment."

Also to note: "Where we do not have the facilities ourselves to host large meetings or conferences, we will look to hire venues externally which have the appropriate capacity, represent good value and are accessible to attendees of that event."

Please find below the responses to your specific question.

2008/09 transactions

1. Over the period, a total of £43,006 was spent on flights. Please could you supply a list of foreign locations visited by HSE officials and explain why the trips were necessary. Please also state how many of the flights were first class.

None of the flights were first class.

Best value tickets were booked to a wide range of domestic and mainland Europe destinations, for example Brussels, Vienna - the Headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Authority. The travel was necessary to enable staff to undertaken their regulatory functions and attend international health and safety meetings.

The average cost per flight was approx £133.

In the timescale given, the flight destinations are not available - these will be provided once available.

2. Over the period, more than £300 was spent on food, including from Ocado Internet and the Sandwich Club. Please explain why this was necessary.

This spend was to provide catering for people employed in specific industry sectors - for example, Safety Health and Awareness Days for agriculture workers - and other meetings where no in-house refreshments provision was available.

3. Over the period, a total of £245,026 was spent on hotels - many of which were four and five star. In several cases, the individual payments run to thousands of pounds. Please explain why such so much public money was spent on hotels.

Hotels have sometimes been the locations for conferences, seminars, training events and workshops which HSE host to share and encourage best practice with high risk industries. Dependent upon number of delegates, facilities required, convenience of location relative to the target audience, hotels may be utilised rather than HSE offices which have very limited meeting facilities.

4. On 27 May 2008, £211.25 was spent at The Bonham. Could you confirm that this was The Bonham restaurant in London and explain the nature of the event and why the spending was necessary?

This is not the Bonham restaurant in London. It relates to the hire of a meeting room in a hotel in Edinburgh as suitable HSE facilities were not available.

5. On 01 May 2008, £111 was spent at "Click4Balloons". Please could you state what was purchased and explain why it was necessary?

This purchase was to enable research which is a key part of the work of the Health and Safety Laboratory, part of HSE.

A number of very large specialist balloons were used to suspend measuring equipment above a large scale experiment to allow measurement of temperature and wind speed in work carried out by the Health and Safety Laboratory in Buxton.

6. On three occasions in 2008, a total of £88.70 was spent at www.justbeautifully.co.uk - a supplier of hair and beauty products. Please could you state what was purchased and explain why it was necessary?

This purchase was to enable research which is a key part of the work of the Health and Safety Laboratory, part of HSE.

The spend was for purchase of supplies to support a research study at the Health and Safety Laboratory into the infection control risks associated with the use of communal body waxing pots in beauty parlours, at a time when a code of practice was in preparation by the industry standards body, HABIA.

7. Over the period, a total of £1,395 was spent at County Beverages - a supplier of coffee machines and refills. Please could you state what was purchased and explain why it was necessary?

This spend was for replenishment of vending machines in HSE's offices which is solely for the use of refreshments for meetings with external visitors.

8. On three occasions in 2008, payments totalling £2,473 were made to Edgbaston Cricket. Please could you state what the payments were for and explain why it was necessary?

The venue was used for events to inform and explain to industry the new EU Regulations in relation to the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). The location was chosen because of room capacity and convenience of location for attendees as well as best value.

9. On April 1 2008, £2,349 was paid to Black Cat/Standard Fireworks Ltd. Please could you state what was purchased and explain why it was necessary?

Twenty boxes of fireworks were bought as part of a research project looking at systems to reduce the incidence of accidental ignition of fireworks in commercial premises.

10. In April and May 2008, more than £450 was paid to Dewars Ice Rinks. Please could you state what was purchased and explain why it was necessary? 

These payments relate to room hire for the provision of a training event in Aberdeen.

11. On May 1 2008, £103.88 was paid to Richer Sounds - a supplier of music systems. Please could you state what was purchased and explain why it was necessary?

This purchase was to enable research which is a key part of the work of the Health and Safety Laboratory, part of HSE.

This spend relates to an amplifier that was used to support accident investigations. It distributes audio signals to various pieces of equipment in an audio/visual suite so the results can be monitored.

12. Over the period, a total of £9,522 was paid to Aintree Racecourse in four instalments. Please could you state what the payments were for explain why it was necessary?

The payments relate to conferences held by the Nuclear Safety Directorate (now Office for Nuclear Regulation) with large multi-national nuclear companies to discuss the assessment of new nuclear reactor designs. The location was chosen because of room capacity and convenience of location for attendees as well as best value. All spend by ONR relating to the Generic Design Assessment programme is recovered from industry and not taken from HSE's budget.

13. On 30 April 2008, £370 was paid to the Newcastle Falcons rugby club. Please could you state what was purchased and explain why it was necessary?

These were events to inform and explain to industry the new EU Regulations in relation to the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). The location was chosen because of room capacity and convenience of location for attendees as well as best value.

14. Over the period, a total of £11,785 was spent shopping at high street and online stores including Amazon, Argos, Boots, Borders, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and Apple. Please could you state what was purchased and explain why it was necessary?

HSE purchases goods from high street retailers where contracts do not exist and the high street provides good value for money (e.g. Argos, Amazon).

Argos is an HSE preferred supplier of off-contract purchases as they offer a 5% discount for purchasing on-line. The spend represents mostly white goods such as fridges and microwaves for relocated and downsized offices.

Spend with Amazon and Borders was for books and materials for HSE's Knowledge Centre not available through their central contract provision. These are used to inform and update staff so they can keep up-to-date in their specialist areas of expertise.

Part of this spend was also to enable research which is a key part of the work of the Health and Safety Laboratory, part of HSE.

HSE and HSL incentivise members of the public to participate in research studies. The vouchers are low value (eg £25) and are used to encourage follow up participation. Without this participation some valuable studies would simply not be possible and this tactic is a recognised and standard part of participatory research.

15. On 1 April 2008, £139.50 was paid for a TV License. Please explain why this was necessary.

The HSL site at Buxton has a television set used for monitoring relevant breaking news items. Purchase of a TV licence is a legal requirement.

16. Over the period, 266 payments totalling £47,134 are stated in negative figures (e.g. -340) suggesting that they have been repaid. Please explain why these payments appear in negative figures. If they were repaid, please explain why

These transactions may arise as a result of returned goods; cancelled orders or incorrect duplicate transactions. There are no cases where the credit relates to repayment of inappropriate purchases made by staff.

17. Please state whether any member of staff has been disciplined for misuse of a government procurement card during the period. If so, please indicate the relevant transactions.

There have been no such disciplinary cases in 2008/09. 

2009/10 transactions

18. Over the period, a total of £294,545 was spent on hotels - many of which were four and five star. In several cases, the individual payments run to thousands of pounds. Please explain why such so much public money was spent on hotels.

Hotels have sometimes been the locations for conferences, seminars, training events and workshops which HSE host to share and encourage best practice with high risk industries. Dependent upon number of delegates, facilities required, convenience of location relative to the target audience, hotels may be utilised rather than HSE offices which have very limited meeting facilities.

19. On 13 September 2009, £57.10 was spent at www.artisanbeers.co.uk Please could you state what was purchased and explain why it was necessary?

This purchase was to enable research which is a key part of the work of the Health and Safety Laboratory, part of HSE.

One Pressure Barrel and replacement parts were required to enable HSL to test the instrument under pressure conditions for water ingress. This experiment is intended to inform work HSL is undertaking to consider potential options for an appropriate infrastructure for hydrogen fuel.

20. In November and December 2009, two payments of £50 were made to www.bagsdirect.com. Please could you state what was purchased and explain why it was necessary?

The purchases were for two extended backpacks for transporting large volume of documents and laptop when visiting dutyholder sites. The reason for using Bags Direct was that it offered the cheapest price for the specification of bag required.

21. Over the period, a total of £34,985 was spent on flights. Please could you supply a list of foreign locations visited by HSE officials and explain why the trips were necessary. Please also state how many of the flights were first class.

None of the flights were first class.

Best value tickets were booked to a wide range of domestic and mainland Europe destinations. The travel was necessary to enable staff to undertaken their regulatory functions and attend international health and safety meetings.

The average cost per flight was approx £90.

In the timescale given, the flight destinations are not available - these will be provided once available.

22. Over the period, a total of £7,314 was spent on food. Please explain why this was necessary.

This spend was to provide catering for those employed in specific industry sectors - for example, Safety Health and Awareness Days for agriculture workers - and other meetings where no in-house refreshments provision was available.

23. In November and December 2009, two payments totalling £2,759 were made to Formby Hall Golf Resort. Please state who attended the resort, what they did there and why it was necessary.

This relates to the hire of conference facilities for senior managers of HSE's Hazardous Installations Directorate to discuss strategic planning issues for 2010/2011. The location was chosen because of room capacity and convenience of location for attendees as well as best value.

24. On 9 February 2010, £3,180 was paid to Aintree Racecourse. Please explain what the payment was for and why it was necessary.

This was a meeting held by the Nuclear Safety Directorate (now Office for Nuclear Regulation) in relation to its transition to agency status. The location was chosen because of room capacity and convenience of location for attendees as well as best value.

25. In October 2009, two payments totalling £533 were made to Active Robots Ltd. Please state what was purchased and why it was necessary.

This purchase was to enable research which is a key part of the work of the Health and Safety Laboratory, part of HSE.

This company provides a range of electrical equipment. This spend relates to one mini servo tester, one any volt micro universal DC/DC converter, one GP Servo lead and one Servo extender cable, purchased by the Health and Safety Laboratory to enable the correct voltage to be supplied to the video camera attached to the UAV microdrone which is used to film investigation scenes (e.g large chemical fires) and monitor large scale experiments from the air.

Also bought was one Handyport Serial Transceiver RS232 kit to collect information from the equipment identified above which transmit the results wirelessly to a computer.

26. On 4 November 2009, a payment of £101.15 was made to Garmin Europe. Please state what was purchased and why it was necessary.

Five Satellite Navigation system chargers as replacements for existing chargers for staff undertaking frontline inspection and investigation activities which involves travel in a number of locations.

27. Over the period, a total of £11,284 was spent shopping at high street and online stores including Sainsbury's, Clarks and Amazon. Please could you state what was purchased and explain why it was necessary?

See response to q14.

28. On 5 February 2010, £5.57 was paid to Yogamad.com, which supplies yoga equipment. Please could you state what was purchased and explain why it was necessary?

This was a purchase of anti-slip tape for flooring at the Health and Safety Laboratories in Buxton to temporarily repair a slip/trip hazard in a damaged doorway.

29. In February and March 2010, four payments totalling £1,394 were made to Leisure Time Sunbeds - a supplier of upright sunbeds. Please could you state what was purchased and explain why it was necessary?

This purchase was to enable research which is a key part of the work of the Health and Safety Laboratory, part of HSE.

One 240w folding sun canopy and choke, replacement tubes, and a set of power lights required as part of a research project considering UV emissions from sunbeds which have caused burns and suspected skin cancers.

30. In October 2009 and January 2010, two payments totalling £150 were made to Danny's Tattoos. A further five payments totalling £937 were made to Tattoo Supplies over the period. Please could you state what was purchased and explain why it was necessary?

This purchase was to enable research which is a key part of the work of the Health and Safety Laboratory, part of HSE.

The spend related to Tattoo inks BR, YW, BK, BL, L, RD, GN. The tattoo inks were bought for research as part of a UK wide ink and pigment study in relation to contamination levels within tattoo inks being used on members of the public on the high street.

31. Over the period, 356 payments totalling £130,352 are stated in negative figures (e.g. -340) suggesting that they have been repaid. Please explain why these payments appear in negative figures. If they were repaid, please explain why.

See response to question 16

32. Please state whether any member of staff has been disciplined for misuse of a government procurement card during the period. If so, please indicate the relevant transactions.

There have been no such disciplinary cases in 2009/10.

Updated 2012-01-13