21 June 1999
Minister spent £28,000 on trips
By FWi staff
FORMER agriculture minister Jack Cunningham ran up an expenses bill of more than £28,000 at two European Union agriculture meetings, it emerged this weekend.
The first visit, which involved an overnight stay in Luxembourg in April last year, cost £10,031 for Dr Cunningham and two officials.
The second visit, to a European farm council meeting in Luxembourg last June, cost £18,764 for Dr Cunningham and 11 officials.
Dr Cunningham, who served as agriculture minister from May 1997 to July 1998, has earned the nickname “Junket Jack” for his reputation for living the high life.
In contrast, his successor Nick Brown, has more humble expectations when he travels abroad on official business.
A two-day European farm council meeting in Brussels attended by Mr Brown this March cost only £537.
A two-day meeting with the Swedish minister in Stockholm later the same month cost only £565.
On both occasions, Mr Brown travelled with no accompanying officials.
The cost of the trips was released after The Guardian filed an application under an “open government” code drawn up under former prime minister John Major.
Earlier this year, a House of Commons select committee criticised Dr Cunningham for spending over £3 million on new offices when he was agriculture minister.
The move from Whitehall Place to Smith Square after Labour came to power in May 1997 cost £1m. Refurbishment cost an additional £2.1m.
The agriculture select committee said Dr Cunningham made the decision to move on the basis of a “back of envelope” assessment rather than detailed cost analysis.
Improvements to ministerial offices included specialist joinery and plasterwork, new furniture, carpets and curtains.