Revealed: The huge amount of money Government agencies spend on furniture

Some ministries have been frugal, others not so much. Photo credit: Getty

Government agencies have spent millions of dollars on purchasing new office furniture since 2016. 

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD), for example - the largest Government agency - has spent just under $10 million. 

In 2016/17 alone, MSD spent $294,925 on office supplies, while $17,719 went to kitchen equipment during relocations in 2017/18.

Its most expensive purchase was a large meeting room table with integrated cabling that cost $5506. 

furniture spending
Photo credit: Newshub.
furniture spending
Photo credit: Newshub.

MSD provides office environments under an occupancy agreement for Oranga Tamariki, so spending in 2017 and 2018 was boosted, despite more being spent in 2016 and 2017. It says that increase was due to the fit-out of its new national office.

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni blamed National for the spend, telling Newshub: "My understanding is that the big spend you're referring to is under the previous Government. The reality is they're operational matters."

The minister added: "Always expect the public service is prudent when spending taxpayers' money. There was a relocation that took place. There's MSD, Oranga Tamariki , the Office for Disabilities and Office for Seniors in the same building."

In comparison, the Ministry of Health spent nothing in 2016/17, and just $26,749 in 2017/18.

furniture spending
Photo credit: Newshub.

Newshub asked each department what the most expensive piece of furniture it had purchased in each financial year. The Ministry of Education spent $11,316 in both years on four-seater media booths. The Ministry says it's an alternative to the construction of a more expensive room. 

The Ministry of Health's most expensive item was a $2182 three-seater sofa for the Dunedin office, while MPI spent $8065 on a six-person meeting hub unit. It's been described as a modular booth system made up of soft wall and soft seating, with a small meeting table in between. 

Internal Affairs spent $24,056 on two greeting reception counters over both financial years, while the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade bought a standalone meeting pod and quiet space "to trial for future office design" for $3969. 

The Ministry for the Environment spent $2036 on an A-frame whiteboard and revealed a single desk cost around $1000. In comparison, the Ministry of Defence's most expensive items were $374 desks. 

The Ministry of Transport spent $9689 on a collaborative booth, Corrections dropped $4525 on a four-desk workstation, while the IRD spent $3600 on a front of house kiosk for customer use. 

The Department of Conservation, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and Oranga Tamariki failed to disclose their most expensive purchase.

ACT leader David Seymour isn't impressed.

"I wouldn't mind the Ministry of Education having millions of dollars of furniture if they were doing their job." 

David Seymour.
David Seymour. Photo credit: The AM Show

Seymour said while the ministry is "splashing out on lavish" furniture suites, "New Zealand students are gradually going down and down in the global rankings in math, science and reading. That's a problem."

He said it's a "question of performance". 

"The Ministry of Social Development has got 300,000 working age New Zealanders on a benefit and their job is to get people off benefits. If they start getting people off benefits, then I don't mind them having $10 million worth of furniture. 

"While they're useless at their job, they shouldn't be spending $10 million of taxpayers money on furniture."

Defence Minister Ron Mark says the Ministry of Defence's low figures show how his ministry has high standards. 

"Those figures are quoted out of Helene Quilter's time as Secretary of Defence," the minister told Newshub. 

"I can't speak more highly of Helene - under her leadership we saw a transformation of the Ministry of Defence and at the granular level, this is just an indication of how tight she ran that ship."

Note: Most agencies supplied figures that noted GST was excluded.