It's been revealed that the States have paid a company £500,000 to make travel arrangements in a bid to save money and staff time.
The issue of States travel has been a controversial one since it emerged two top civil servants paid more than £12,000 for fully-flexible, business class tickets to South Africa. Now, in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Law (FOI), more details are coming out on how the States pay for travel for their employees.
The Hogg Robinson Group was awarded the contract to book States travel in 2012, and the amount it’s been taking in fees has been steadily increasing as more States business has gone its way. Back in 2013 – the first full year of the contract – it was paid almost £86,000. That’s now more than doubled because the company recently took over responsibility for many of Health’s bookings. Over the past four years the company has been paid almost £500,000.
The idea behind having one company to deal with the bookings has been to save money. It’s claimed one big company has more bargaining power with airlines and hotel chains and can therefore get better deals; and that having one company to deal with the booking saves States’ time because staff don’t get tied up making the arrangements.
The FOI response says: “The contract was awarded after an openly advertised tender process which commenced in 2011. Evaluation was based upon the Most Economically Advantageous Tender (MEAT) which combines a mix of quality and price criteria.”
It goes on to say: “The service is offered in exchange for fees. Fees vary eg depending upon volume and the type of travel transaction undertaken. The contract does make for commissions to be collected, however, the travel industry as a whole pays fewer commissions as a result of direct bookings via the internet.”
Whether having one company deal with the travel arrangements or reverting back to the old ways – when States departments did their own bookings – is better, is being looked at by the Public Accounts Committee.
At a recent hearing the civil servant in charge of Jersey’s Health Department told a scrutiny panel she believed the old system for booking travel and accommodation was superior to the new centralised system. According to Julie Garbutt, “...whilst I can see what the centralised system is trying to achieve, and we are keen to be corporate, for all sorts of reasons it’s not as good as it used to be.”
Ms Garbutt told panel chairman Deputy Andrew Lewis that travel bookings aren’t as straight forward as they might seem. For more than 20 years the hospital had its own 'travel office' which handled flights and accommodation for both staff and patients. According to Ms Garbutt the person who ran the office had built up excellent contacts with all the major airlines and was usually able to get much better deals than is currently the case.
She says it was a similar story with accommodation. HRG deals with major chains, so cheaper deals that used to be on offer like staying at various medical colleges are no longer available.
The FOI response notes: “...the [HRG] contract has formal quarterly reviews, however, is continuously monitored throughout the year due to the high level of transactions that are undertaken. The contract commenced in July 2012 and was extended in accordance with the terms in July 2014 for a further three years, expiring July 2017.”
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Perhaps Ms Garbutt would like to tell us how much the health travel office is still costing the tax payer? And what they have been doing for the last four years?