‘Not in line with spending policies’ – ICO apologises for buying £6,000 of chocolate

Data protection watchdog says that money was spent on gifts to recognise employees’ hard work – but should not have been drawn from public funds
Photo: Piqsels

By Sam Trendall

29 Sep 2021

The Information Commissioner’s Office has apologised for spending more than £6,000 of public funds on chocolate.

Transparency information released earlier this year by the data protection watchdog revealed that, shortly before Christmas 2020, a corporate credit card had been used to make a £6,248.40 purchase from Hotel Chocolat.

Shortly after the payment came to light, the regulator announced that it would conduct an “independent internal investigation” to determine whether the transaction contravened spending policies and what remedial action might be required.

Having concluded the probe, the ICO yesterday announced that it “was not in line with our staff recognition or spending policies to purchase gifts for staff using public funds”.

“This was the only transaction made outside ICO policy and the only example of gifts having been purchased for staff,” a spokesperson said. “The investigation found that, for this specific transaction, our strict financial controls were not overseen effectively, enabling the transaction to be made despite it not being permitted by ICO policy.”

However, the regulator added that the money spent, which bought 254 identical gift sets that were distributed to workers as Christmas presents, “was intended to acknowledge the hard work of these staff across a challenging year”.

“We want to apologise for this incident,” the spokesperson said. “We have taken action in response to the investigation’s findings, implementing all recommendations in full, so that this should not happen again.”

The watchdog added that it has recently appointed a director of finance who is expected to “to strengthen the oversight of our financial controls and staff training.”

Future internal audits will include a review of the recommendations and measures implemented in light of the investigation.

“Where the investigation highlighted behaviour that fell below the standards the ICO expects, we have also taken the appropriate steps,” the spokesperson concluded.

Sam Trendall is the editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where a version of this story first appeared.

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