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Humza Yousaf must be braced to answer questions about Play-Doh and yoga classes, writes Gina Davidson
10 August 2023, 07:55
Humza Yousaf must be braced for the inevitable questions: “Have you ever used Play-Doh while at work? what’s your favourite nail polish colour? can you do the downward dog?"
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"Oh and have you actually read the collected speeches of Nicola Sturgeon?”
Why ask such apparently random questions of the person in charge of tackling Scotland’s cost of living crisis, the widening poverty-related attainment gap, the rising homelessness?
Well because yoga classes, nail polish, crazy golf and even Play-Doh are just some of the items revealed on a £14.2m list of spending by senior civil servants over a three-year period.
Oh and yes six copies of Women Hold Up Half the Sky: Selected Speeches of Nicola Sturgeon.
They were in the list of hundreds of books purchased by the Scottish government’s library division, which together cost more than £55,000.
That included 22 copies of a book titled How To Run A Government by Michael Barber which offers solutions to politicians who “struggle to honour their promises and officials [who] find it near impossible to translate ideas into action” resulting in “high taxes, but poor outcomes”.
The irony has not been lost on the Scottish Government’s critics.
Of course, this catalogue of spending, which has been disclosed to Scottish Labour through a Freedom of Information request, did not take place while Mr Yousaf was First Minister, but the fallout is now his £14.2m problem to deal with.
That is the total of the 60,000 purchases made by senior government staff between September 2019 and August last year.
Top civil servants are issued with credit cards for buying goods and services up to a value of £5000 per transaction, and much of the spending, as you would expect, was on computer and other office equipment, particularly during the Covid pandemic as people worked from home.
There was also just over £1.5m spent in a two-week period last July booking hotel accommodation for Ukraine refugees arriving in Scotland. So far so understandable.
However, the list also includes nearly £10,000 on fast-track security and access to lounges at UK and European airports for former first minister Nicola Sturgeon and her staff, which has raised eyebrows - and a payment of £4,182 for hospitality and hotel accommodation at the five-star Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire.
Bowling, laser tag, escape rooms, pottery lessons and yoga classes were among the "away days" for civil servants, which also included a £2000 day at Edinburgh Zoo in 2019.
Overall the team building days totalled a cost of £32,995 over the three year period.
Meanwhile, almost £400 was also spent at Brewhemia in Edinburgh, dubbed Scotland’s “beer palace” while £351 was spent at “Da Steak Hoose” and officials used the credit cards to pay £3.30 for ping pong balls, £46.58 for Play-Doh and paper plates, £3.97 for paper planes and £5.60 for stickers, while £100 was spent at Swingers crazy golf.
The dump of information also reveals £25,000 spending which had to be repaid as it was classed as “fraud”.
LBC understands the majority of these transactions - which were paid to a credit company - were attributed to one cardholder, who proactively identified the problem and confirmed that the purchases had taken place without their knowledge and the card was cancelled.
Humza Yousaf has now ordered a review of Scottish government bank card spending. He said it was "fair to ask the questions" about the spending and has asked his officials to review procedures.
“We absolutely have to be mindful of every penny and every pound that we spend,” he says.
That review will be welcomed by Scottish taxpayers, who themselves are watching every penny during the current cost of living crisis, and who will undoubtedly feel frustrated at government expenditure which is seen as wasteful.
Certainly, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Jackie Baillie says it’s “deeply concerning” that money was “spent on away days at a time when families across Scotland are struggling to make ends meet” and Scottish Liberal Democrat finance spokesperson John Ferry says when “households battening down the hatches and enduring choppy financial seas, the Scottish Government must make sure that it is squeezing every penny to help Scots.”
Humza Yousaf appears to agree - now he just has to make sure his civil servants do too.