Database's pound;61k of gimmicks make mugs of taxpayers

30th April 2010 at 01:00
The government and one of its newest quangos have been accused of wasting taxpayer's money

The government and one of its newest quangos have been accused of wasting taxpayer's money after it emerged they spent more than pound;61,000 on mugs and pens to promote a new pound;224 million database containing children's personal information.

Heads and school leaders have attacked the pound;45,400 spent on pens and pound;15,700 on mugs since 2007 by the ContactPoint initiative, a project that has been surrounded by controversy since it was first mooted.

David Lyscom, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, has been a long-term critic. He said the figures were only the "tip of the iceberg" of the financial waste involved in the scheme.

Mr Lyscom, whose organisation obtained the figures under the Freedom of Information Act, has campaigned for the database to be scrapped, saying the bureaucracy it introduced "diverts schools away from educating children".

There are also concerns about the security of the database, designed to improve communication between 390,000 health care workers, social workers, teachers, police and other agencies.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have both said they would scrap the scheme following the general election.

Mr Lyscom said: "It's extraordinary. If the scheme was that good, why does the Government need to spend money promoting it with mugs and pens?"

He also complained that thousands had been spent by the Department for Children, Schools and Families promoting the scheme by treating sceptical headteachers to lunches in hotels.

Geoff Lucas, secretary of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference group of elite private schools, added: "Anybody who doubts what can be cut in the DCSF and various quangos only has to see this figure.

"Given how totally micromanaged the department is, one wonders at what level these pens and mugs were signed off."

But despite the row over promotional materials, the future of ContactPoint looks to be in doubt before it has even been introduced on a national scale.

The DCSF responded to criticism of its promotional budget, saying the cost of the mugs and pens was "a small part of the overall implementation costs for ContactPoint". They were delivered at a local level to promote awareness, it said.

The figures have come to light after it was announced the DCSF would be expected to make pound;500 million in cuts to help with a government-wide efficiency drive.

Just pound;7 million, Mr Lyscom said, would be saved by axeing backroom staff and consultants.

But this is not the first time the DCSF has come under fire for frivolous wastage.

There was outrage last year when it was revealed the department had splashed out pound;78,000 on pot plants for its Sanctuary Building headquarters in London. The foliage spree came in the year that Ed Balls was installed as Schools Secretary, but officials said they had been bought as part of as a "one-off" building refurbishment.

How much? The sweet smell of excess

The Ministry of Justice was criticised for spending pound;170,000 on contemporary art to adorn its new pound;130 million headquarters near St James's Park, London.

The 43 police forces in England and Wales were collectively criticised for clocking up a pound;70,000-a-day bill for hire cars.

The tourism quango VisitEngland was pilloried for spending pound;8,500 producing and marketing 30 bottles of perfume that "smelt of England". It was sprayed on people in tourist hotspots at the cost of pound;108 a bottle.

Original paper headline: pound;61k of promotional gimmicks for child database make mugs of taxpayers

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