Education move that cost dear

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No one will need reminding that the country is battling an economic crisis and the Government has sought to justify its ruthless cuts to public spending by claiming any available funds must be spent on the most vital front-line services.

Therefore many will react with disbelief at the news that the Department for Education in Sheffield spent millions of pounds moving to a new office just a few streets away from its previous base.

In what appears to be a staggeringly profligate move, the DfE dumped furniture and fittings worth thousands of pounds – only to then spend nearly 5m fitting out the new building. In total, the cost for the relocation is more than 33m, including the 250-year lease.

To put that into perspective, the hugely controversial decision to axe the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters – despite a compelling business case supporting it – saved the Government 80m.

Sheffield Council is facing cuts of about 50m next year and South Yorkshire Fire Brigade saw its funding cut by 4.1m – 900,000 less than the cost of the DfE's new fixtures and fittings.

Never has George Osborne's mantra "we are all in this together" rung quite so hollow. The DfE have said the move will save money in running costs, claiming the offices were too big, but there are other Whitehall departments in Sheffield, was there no way they could be brought under one roof?

The DfE came under fire in October after the same Sheffield office spent 5.7m in redundancy payments at an average of 100,000 per person – with some employees given four years pay to leave.

Then retail magnate Sir Philip Green published his review of Whitehall spending, revealing some departments paid 8 for a box of paper while others spent 73. Sir Philip claimed that 20bn could be saved by cutting waste, without cutting a single job.

It is clear Government offices need to be of a certain standard, but to carry out such an extravagant move when the country is still reeling from the most brutal cuts in living memory is at best crass, and at worst arrogant and out of touch. It will become a near impossible job for the Coalition to sell a life of austerity to the public if they keep failing so badly to lead by example.