Scottish officials given new rules for bank-card spending

After an audit process, the Scottish Government has announced that guidelines for purchases made using official credit cards will be tightened and brought in line with equivalent policies in Westminster

The Scottish Government will align civil service bank card spending policies with the UK government’s more rigorous protocols, following a review.

The changes will see monthly spending limits for electronic purchase cards (ePCs) tightened and civil servants asked to pay back inappropriate spending. First minister Humza Yousaf ordered a review in August after it emerged that nearly 60,000 transactions were made on government bank cards, adding up to more than £6m.

The internal audit of credit card spending by civil servants in the Scottish Government looked into 194 transactions that were questioned in the media – including yoga classes, nail varnish and Edinburgh Festival tickets – and found one all but one was appropriate under the current ePC policy. The inappropriate payment was a Just Eat takeaway fraudulently purchased by someone who was not the card user.

Procurement cards are often used to make purchases of small tech or electronic items – and the 194 listed transactions include a payment of a little over £200 for cloud services from Amazon.

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Despite the near-absence of inappropriate payments, the audit found opportunities for improving the current protocol, including reviewing what can and cannot be purchased through ePC, beefing up training and reassessing how many cardholders are needed.

The Scottish Government also held talks with the UK government to compare policies and identify where improvements could be made.

It found three areas where it can strengthen current protocols by aligning them with the UK government:

  • Dropping the ePC monthly transaction limit from £25,000 to £10,000
  • Retaining receipts and invoices for all transactions on ePC cards for three years
  • Setting out that card holders should pay monies back if an ePC is used inappropriately.

The Scottish Government has set out an action plan in response to the suggestions, which it says will focus on raising awareness of ePC policies,further review of policy and procedures in light of the audit’s findings, improving training, greater scrutiny of monthly transactions, and alignment with UK government policies “where they are more rigorous”.

Tevye Markson

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