Civil servants have given themselves almost £1.4 million in shopping vouchers as a reward for good performance, the Telegraph can reveal.
An investigation has found that the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (Beis) spent £1,385,035.91 of taxpayer’s money on Love2Shop vouchers between September 2018 and December 31 2022.
The vouchers can be spent at dozens of high street vendors, including American Golf, Champneys, Robert Dyas, Pontins, Shoe Zone and WH Smith.
Senior civil servants at Beis spent the money on more than 350 separate transactions, with the largest individual purchase being almost £29,000 worth of vouchers on Feb 1 2019.
Any purchases more than £500 on the department’s card must be reported for transparency purposes.
Several government departments, including Defra, the Department of Education and the Department for Health, provide a description for what each purchase is for, but no such information is provided by Beis.
Data show that of the more than 350 transactions there were six individual transactions of more than £19,000 and 90 transactions of more than £5,000.
It is understood that junior civil servants within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) receive gift vouchers of either £25, £50, £75 or £100 after being nominated for good work and these are signed off by a senior civil servant.
The large department, which was disbanded in February 2023 and replaced with the Department for Business and Trade (DBT), the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) as part of a reorganisation by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, was home to almost 6,000 staff in its core department.
If every staff member received an equal share of the pie that would equate to £237.57 each.
UK Shared Business Services Ltd (UK SBS) bought the vouchers for BEIS from Park Retail Limited, the parent company of Love2Shop, with the staff then getting their non-cash rewards to spend.
“The vouchers are Beis’ method of rewarding high performance,” the department told the Telegraph in response to a Freedom of Information request.
The initiative first appeared in the financial records in September 2018, with the unofficial bonus scheme going on for four years until the Telegraph uncovered the process.
A Freedom of Information request was received by the Government on October 25, 2022, and the latest batch of documents to be released show the purchases from Park Retail Ltd stopped the very next day following a trio of transactions totalling £10,904.48 on 26 October.
But in the four-year period between the scheme starting and October 2022, only the months of September 2019 and a Covid-stricken April 2020 saw no vouchers be purchased by the department.
However, in May 2020, in the midst of the first lockdown, Beis spent more than £41,000 giving its staff Love2Shop vouchers.
The department spent around £2.5 million in total on the cards between April 2018 and the end of December 2022, with more than half of that coming from Love2Shop vouchers.
Families pick up the tab
John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Incentives for hard work and achievement are all well and good, but the top brass have to remember the families picking up the tab.
“Times are tough, and with sky high taxes and inflation biting, it’s more important than ever that the civil service delivers value for taxpayers’ money.”
The most expensive month for vouchers was March 2022 when Kwasi Kwarteng was still the minister for business with more than £77,000 spent on vouchers in 26 different transactions.
The monthly expenditure from March 2022 alone is enough to pay the annual salary of Grade 6 member of staff, such as another “Office for Life Sciences Manager”, “Space Manager” or “Vaccine Task Force Manager”.
The total expenditure on shopping coupons in the first five months of 2022 is more than the annual salary of Beis’ top earning civil servant, Sir Patrick Vallance, one of the faces of the Covid pandemic as the government’s chief scientific adviser.
Sir Patrick’s salary is listed as between £185,000 and £189,999 by the department’s latest organogram, while January through to May 2022 saw Beis spend £193,394.46 on vouchers.
The Royal College of Nursing estimates the annual NHS nurse has a salary of around £34,000 and there have been 11 occasions where this amount has been exceeded in a single month on gift cards for Beis staffers.
A Beis spokesperson told the Telegraph: “This expenditure is fully in line with long-standing arrangements in the civil service for rewarding and recognising good performance from members of staff.”