Health Secretary Matt Hancock defends department’s £50k spend on takeaways

The health secretary has defended his department spending almost £50,000 of taxpayers’ money on takeaways from an east London restaurant in the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to an investigation by the Daily Mail and the TaxPayers’ Alliance, the Department of Health spent £47,528.68 on takeaways from Bong Bong’s Manila Kanteen in March and April.

The report said that nine orders totalling £43,348.96 were placed at the restaurant, which promises “Filipino inspired dining”, in April.

A total of £4,179.72 was spent in March, the report says.

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Asked about the expenditure, Matt Hancock told Sky News: “I can absolutely justify feeding people who are working 18 hours a day to keep you and everybody else in this country safe.”

Speaking to Kay Burley, he said his team in the department have been “unbelievable” and he was “proud” of the work they have done, adding: “When people are working 18 hours a day, often seven days a week, in the middle of a pandemic, of course I’m going to feed them.

“It’s probably the best value for money food that you can get in terms of allowing people to work so hard to tackle this virus.”

Pressed again on the spending in light of the government’s initial reluctance to fund free school meals over the holidays, Mr Hancock replied: “The education secretary made an announcement about that and we have been able to support people, we are going to be able to support people, throughout the Christmas holiday.

“When you have a team working hard, you need to support them, absolutely.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson phoned Manchester United star Marcus Rashford – who has been campaigning on the issue – earlier this month to tell him that £170m was being set aside to help feed disadvantaged children over the Christmas holidays.

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A Department of Health spokesman 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.

“All departmental spend is in line with approved government processes.”

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Kay Burley that he was not aware of the story, but it “does sound like an awful lot of money for one particular takeaway”.

“I understand if civil servants are working incredibly long hours at the Department of Health in the middle of a public health crisis, I’ll understand that they probably should be allowed to get takeaway meals,” he said.

“But 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.”

In an Instagram post on Sunday, Bong Bong’s Manila Kanteen revealed that it was closing its restaurant in Hackney.

“Don’t panic though…it’s not all doom and gloom and we do have some exciting things in the pipeline, which we hope to update you all on very soon,” it said.

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