The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spent a total of £47,528 on takeaways from Bong Bong’s Manila Kanteen earlier this year, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed.
Just nine orders costing £43,348 were placed at the fashionable “Filipino-inspired” eatery during April – and another £4,179-worth of orders placed in March, according to spending data requested by the Daily Mail and the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
“I can absolutely justify feeding people who are working 18 hours a day to keep you and everybody else in this country safe,” Mr Hancock said on Monday.
“When people are working 18 hours a day … in the middle of a pandemic, of course I’m going to feed them,” he told Sky News. “It’s possibly the best value food you can get in terms of allowing people working so hard to tackle this virus.”
Pressed by Sky News host Kay Burley on whether the spending was justified given the government’s initial reluctance to fund free school meals, Mr Hancock replied: “The education secretary made an announcement about that and we have been able to support people.”
He added: “When you have a team working hard, you need to support them, absolutely.”
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the nearly £50,000 bill “does sound like an awful lot of money”, adding: “I would have thought that the department would want to have some rules in place about what is a reasonable amount that can be spent.”
Why did Health Secretary @MattHancock spend almost £44,000 on takeaway food for his staff at the start of the pandemic but take so long to commit to free school meals? RH#KayBurley pic.twitter.com/04cFkd6rYO
— Kay Burley (@KayBurley) November 23, 2020
The DHSC said the food was ordered by employees at its headquarters in central London – but could not provide a figure on the number of staff who ordered food. The restaurant’s website advertises £45 “feast” deals which feeds two to three people.
A spokesperson for the department said: “The department led the government’s response to the pandemic and during lockdown we had key workers in the office from early in the morning until late at night.
“These purchases were necessary to ensure staff working shifts were able to access hot food when other catering options were unavailable during lockdown, until alternative arrangements could be made.”
The latest FOI requests also revealed that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) spent £432,071 on acquiring art for government buildings in the past year.
A DCMS spokesperson said the collection “helps promote the creativity of British art and culture at home and across the globe with acquisitions approved by an independent expert panel”.