David Seymour struggles to swallow Govt agencies' catering bill

The ACT Party says taxpayers forking out millions of dollars for food, booze, and entertainment at Government agencies last year is an outrage.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) ate, drank and schmoozed its way through $1.2 million worth of catering last year.

ACT's leader David Seymour said the spend was a kick in the guts for families who can't afford food.

"Diplomacy by its very nature involves catering, but over $1.2 million when the borders are closed and meetings are on Zoom - they have got to be kidding."

However, the former Ambassador to the US, Tim Groser, said ACT should be looking for bigger targets than MFAT's entertainment bill.

"My last job as Ambassador of the United States, there was entertainment going on in the ambassador's residence, sometimes I was not involved in it, going on every day of the week because that's how business is actually done."

The foreign affairs ministry said it also provided catering at Anzac Day events and other war commemorations.

Last year's spend was half the size of MFAT's $2.5 million catering bill in 2020 as lockdowns and closed borders took their toll on its hospitality.

Other big spenders on catering include the Department of Internal Affairs which spent more than $600,000 last year, down from $1.4 million in 2020. Meanwhile, Te Puni Kōkiri/the Ministry of Māori Development spent $362,847 on catering in 2021.

Fire and Emergency NZ also spent nearly $650,000 on catering, but they are predominantly funded by an insurance levy. It told 1News that most of its catering spend was for training programmes that volunteer firefighters attend.

People gather to eat food (file image).

Fire and Emergency's spend was one that Seymour let slide.

"If they're feeding volunteers, that's one place we'll let them off, but not many Government departments can claim that."

While catering bills for many Government agencies plummeted, RNZ bucked that trend - its catering bill for entertainment and work lunches having risen to $92,000.

The organisation's catering spend has nearly doubled in the last five years.

In a statement, the public broadcaster said it "paid for meals and snacks provided to members of the team required to work on the RNZ premises during lockdowns, and meals for journalists working on the election campaign coverage" in addition to the usual catering for board meetings and training sessions.

For comparison, TVNZ spent just under $70,000 on catering last year, with the money coming from commercial sources.

At the bottom end of the scale, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment spent just $600 on catering last year.

ACT also confirmed it recently spent $1050 of taxpayers' money hosting the press at Parliament for drinks and nibbles.

"We managed to show we can do it much much cheaper than any of these guys," Seymour said.