The Charity Commission spent almost £300,000 on travel, flights and hotel expenses in the past six months, plus almost £400,000 on consultancy payments, research by Third Sector has found.
Every month the regulator publishes details of everything on which it spends more than £25,000. Analysis by Third Sector of the figures between August and January shows it spent £298,468.58 on travel and accommodation over the period.
Consultancy payments in January and December cost the regulator a combined £377,314.80. The commission also spent £58,213.85 on agency staff in December, the published figures show.
In January, the commission also spent £161,978.04 on 266 iPhones for staff at its bases in London, Liverpool and Taunton. This works out at an average of slightly more than £600 per phone.
The cost of travel and accommodation included £79,799.88 in August, £55,647.27 in September, £65,932.37 in October, £55,383.11 in November and £41,705.95 in January.
No figures for travel and hotels were published for December because the total would have fallen beneath the £25,000 threshold.
A statement from the Charity Commission said its travel and accommodation costs for the six months were in line with previous years’ spending and reflected the fact that the regulator operated from four offices in England and Wales.
It said iPhones were purchased to ensure the regulator had “the highest level of cyber security” because of the confidential information it handles, and to allow video conferencing, which would reduce travel costs in the long term.
The statement said: “In 2018 we set out our strategic intention for the next five years, which included some significant changes and improvements to service. Ensuring our IT can deliver on the new strategy is vital and we’ve therefore developed a technical roadmap to ensure that our IT is best aligned to support the strategy.
“One implication of this commitment is that we’ve needed to spend more initially on our information systems consultancy support, which we don’t have in house, to provide specialist advice and support on our key infrastructure and systems programme. The figure for this cost was competitively priced and subject to civil service procurement processes.
“Agency staff have been employed on a temporary basis to support our IT project, and December’s invoices included costs for previous months too.”
The Charity Commission has repeatedly called for additional funding to help it meet rising demand. In 2015 its budget was frozen at £20.3m a year before additional “interim” funding was provided by the government in 2018.
The commission’s annual report for the year to the end of March 2019 says the regulator had a revenue budget of £27.1m over the course of the year, of which it spent £26.8m.