Byline: STEVE DOUGHTY
SPENDING by ministers on 'hospitality' has gone up since New Labour came to power.
according to figures released yesterday.
The statistics show that Tony Blair's ministers spent 4.5 per cent more on entertainment for their visitors and contacts last year than those in John Major's administration in its last year.
The hospitality figures have increased despite Mr Blair's efforts to persuade his colleagues to cut back spending on parties, receptions and entertaining.
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who once called the Major administration's spending on alcohol 'damned offensive', saw bills for ministerial hospitality in his Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions rise by nearly 400 per cent to [pounds sterling]60,505 last year.
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, in Opposition the greatest scourge of Tory sleaze, became with his ministerial colleagues the biggest spender on entertaining - Foreign Office bills jumped 61 per cent from [pounds sterling]265,098 to [pounds sterling]427,036 last year.
Overall, ministers spent [pounds sterling]925,534 on hospitality in their Whitehall departments in the financial year that ended in April. That was 8.9 per cent up on their first year year in power, when the bills did go down, and 4.5 per cent up on the last Tory year.
Yesterday Tories seized on the evidence that Labour ministers have been less than penny-pinching.
A spokesman for the Opposition said: 'Tony Blair was categorical when he said at the time of the election that Labour was not here to enjoy the trappings of office. …