EXCLUSIVE: The UK spent £23,000 investigating why £6,000 of chocolate was bought with a government credit card before Christmas.
“We appreciate that the cost of the investigation was greater than the spend it was investigating,” an official said.
One campaigner said the use of taxpayers’ money was a “farce.”
The UK’s data-protection agency spent £23,000 ($31,000) investigating why a staff member spent more than £6,000 on fancy chocolate in breach of its spending rules.
In February, Insider exclusively reported that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) opened an investigation after an employee spent £6,248.40 (around $8,500) on a corporate charge card four days before Christmas.
The amount was spent at the luxury chocolate retailer Hotel Chocolat.
On September 28, after a seven-month investigation, the ICO released a statement explaining the money was spent on 254 identical gifts, each totalling £24.60, for members of ICO staff.
What they didn’t say publicly is that the investigation, carried out by the law firm Forbes Solicitors, cost four times the amount of the original spending. In response to a freedom of information request, the ICO admitted Forbes Solicitors was paid £23,027 to investigate.
“While the spending was intended to acknowledge the hard work of these staff across a challenging year, the investigation confirmed it was not in line with our staff recognition or spending policies to purchase gifts for staff using public funds,” an ICO spokesperson said in the statement.
The organization apologised for the incident, and said: “We have taken action in response to the investigation’s findings, implementing all recommendations in full, so that this should not happen again.
“We have also appointed a new Director of Finance to strengthen the oversight of our financial controls and staff training.”
The information was requested by data protection expert Tim Turner. He told Insider that he was confused why investigating the forbidden spending itself cost more than the actual error itself.
“There’s an element of wanting to give them credit for owning up to how much it cost, but this is an indictment of the incompetent and profligate senior management at the ICO,” he said.
“Whoever is ultimately responsible for this farce shouldn’t be involved in running a book exchange in a phone box, much less making spending decisions in a major regulator.”
Asked whether he thought the investigation was good value for money, Turner said: “It’s possibly not the worst example of ICO pouring money down the drain, but it’s emblematic of how casually they throw money around.
“£23,000 to investigate a single, well-meaning breach of policy that cost a quarter of that.”
The ICO said, “We appreciate that the cost of the investigation was greater than the spend it was investigating, but it was important that any investigation was completely independent and was viewed as an investment in continuous improvement and the mitigation of future compliance risk.”
Forbes Solicitors did not respond to a request for comment.
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