Clarke splashes out on nibbles

24th October 2003 at 01:00
Canapes and warm white wine all round. After lean years under austere Estelle Morris the good times are back for visitors to the Department for Education and Skills.

Fun-loving Education Secretary Charles Clarke has presided over a rise in the DfES hospitality budget of almost 20 per cent. Spending on food and drink for visitors has jumped from pound;449,000 in 20012 to pound;531,000 last year.

It follows a sharp fall in the entertainment budget during Ms Morris' s tenure.

Mr Clarke got off to a fast start when, just a few hours after his appointment, he was pouring wine for the press at a hastily-arranged reception.

DfES spending appears particularly generous when compared to the Department of Health, which spent only pound;88,503 on hospitality between April and December last year.

But regular visitors to the DfES Sanctuary Buildings headquarters have noticed little change in the fare on offer.

John Dunford, Secondary Heads Association general secretary, said: "There is definitely no difference in quality. DfES sandwiches are as run-of-the-mill as they always were."

David Hart, his counterpart at the National Association of Head Teachers, complained that he had missed out. "Apart from a few sandwiches and cups of coffee, I have not had anything. It must be going to other people.

"We know the Secretary of State has a soft spot for red wine but I cannot believe he could be responsible for this increase in the hospitality budget," he said.

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, admitted that he has had less of ministers' hospitality since the union refused to sign the workload agreement. "During the past 10 months I have not had the chance to sample the department's full culinary range," he said.

A DfES spokeswoman said the department's spending on food and drink had been split between a range of different catering companies.

"We don't think it's an outlandish amount," she said. "It reflects the fact that we are trying to work with more external partners."

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