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26 Feb, 2013 20:38

UK police slammed over wasting $24,000 on talking clock, directory enquiries

UK police slammed over wasting $24,000 on talking clock, directory enquiries

UK police force spent £16,000 of tax payers’ money calling the talking clock and directory enquiries in three years. It's the latest in a string of scandals over tax payer money being wasted as jobs are slashed in cash strapped Britain.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) made 35,000 calls checking time and contact details between 2010 and 2012, data revealed under the Freedom of Information Act showed.

However, GMP defended its actions: “Prior to widespread access to the internet and in common with originations and the general public officers and staff had to use directory enquiries to obtain contact details,” Chief Officer Lynne Potts told the Daily Mail. She did not comment on the exact nature of calls to the speaking clock.

Last year it was revealed that London’s Metropolitan Police spent more than £35,000 (over $50,000) on calls to the speaking clock.

The Tax Payers’ Alliance (TPA) said that it beggared belief that money was being wasted on calls when there is real pressure on police budgets. Over 24,000 jobs have gone as a result of police cuts with thousands of officers being made redundant. 

“Taxpayers will be aghast that their cash has been spent like that when there are plenty of other ways of checking phone numbers or the time,” said Matthew Sinclair, political director of the TPA.

The latest allegation of waste by civil servants involves relatively small sums of money it comes hot on the heels of numerous scandals involving tax payer’s money, at a time when voters are feeling the pinch on their pockets with ever greater austerity, price rises and stagnant wages.

Last week it was revealed by Conservative MP Steve Barclay that the National Health Service (NHS) spent £14.7 million ($22 million) on silencing whistleblowers. This was done through gagging orders written into staff contracts where they were paid ‘special severance payouts’, which induce potential whistleblowers to sign away their rights and not take their complaints any further.

But this is small change compared to the £6.4 billion ($9.6 billion) wasted on the NHS’ new centralized computer system.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee issued a report in August 2011 that found British Telecom was paid £9 million by the NHS to install the same systems it usually charges £2 million ($3 million) for.  Auditors also found that government officials were spending ten times the market rate for laptops.

MPs in the Public Accounts Committee also described a now shelved plan to create a network of regional fire stations as a “complete failure”, which has cost the tax payer £469 million (up to $710 million).

The project was launched in 2004 but seven years later, eight of the purpose built centers were empty white elephants costing £4 million ($6 million) a month to maintain. The MPs found that a new IT system for the fire service “was simply never delivered” because government departments didn’t coordinate their work with the needs of local fire services.

But it is perhaps the Ministry of Defense (MoD), which has overseen the most scandalous waste of public resources in recent years. 

16 of the MoD’s largest contracts are now more than 11 years behind schedule and costs have shot up by almost half a billion by the beginning of this year.

The £32 million ($48 million) Falcon communication system designed for Afghanistan will not be ready until after the troops leave, while £787 million ($1,190 million) has been blown plugging the gap caused by delays to the Royal Air Forces (RAF’s) Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft and the A400M transport plane, with elderly VC10’s, some of them almost 50 years old, flying on until the new tankers are ready.

Other areas in which the government has squandered taxpayers money include half a million on renting fig trees to put outside MPs offices, £4 million ($6 million) on advertising Britain on British television and £450 million (circa $ 680 million) in aid to Argentina.