FIFE Council managed to run up bills totalling £1.45m on procurement cards in the last financial year.
That’s more than four times the amount spent using the cards five years ago, and takes the total bill since 2007/08 to £4.29m.
Included in that total are thousands of pounds worth of cash withdrawals from High Street banks, which have incurred hundreds of pounds worth of cash advance fees.
Lis Smith, Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland & Fife, obtained details of credit and procurement card spending by Scotland’s local authorities through Freedom of Information requests.
She has sought an explanation of Fife Council’s “high” levels of spending on cards and expressed concern about unidentified cash withdrawals.
But the Council has issued an assurance that all transactions had been approved, and all spending using the cards is strictly monitored.
Mrs Smith said: “Local taxpayers will be asking how Fife Council has managed to run up a bill of over £4,290,000 on credit cards.
“The £4,290,000 spent since 2007 is extremely high compared to other Scottish councils of a similar size and population.
“I have written to the Council’s chief executive seeking an explanation for how such a large sum of money has been spent by Fife Council on credit cards and seeking a review of the Council’s policy on the use of credit cards and the accounting of such expenditure.”
The Council’s cards were mainly used to settle hotel and restaurant bills, to pay for travel by air or rail, or to cover garage expenses. They have also been used in supermarkets, convenience stores, florists, music, book and toy shops, electrical stores, chemists and shoe repairers, and to book theatre tickets.
Comparisons with other councils, however, suggest Fife’s spending is not excessive.
Although Scotland’s biggest council, City of Glasgow, has spent just £600,000 using cards in the last five years, Falkirk Council – which is around half the size of Fife in terms of population – spent £36m, and Stirling Council – a quarter the size of Fife – spent £44m.
Even Scotland’s smallest mainland authority, Clackmannanshire, ran up card bills of £3.9m.
Keith O’Donnell, Fife Council’s head of financial services, said it was important to note that council staff did not use credit cards, and that this data related to government procurement cards, also known as purchasing cards.
He added: “These are only issued to staff where service management teams agree they are necessary to do the job.”
Mr O’Donnell continued, “Within services, every transaction is coded and approved by a budget holder, so the details of all spend is monitored monthly.
“Because some teams do need the flexibility to buy things with cash, using purchasing cards to withdraw money is more cost effective than having lots of bank accounts, each incurring bank charges and requiring staff time to administer.
“Using procurement cards has also virtually eliminated the need for petty cash in offices.”