Cash-strapped council lavished a fortune on overseas jaunts

Foreign junkets galore: Cash-strapped council lavished a fortune on overseas jaunts including business class travel to China and five-star stays in Morocco

  • Town hall bosses spent £90,000 of public money on trips abroad last year
  • Councils need an extra £10billion to plug the funding gap and improve services
  • Tory MP Ben Bradley hit out at the ‘hypocrisy’ of council bosses for the ‘jollies’ 

Cash-strapped councils lavished tens of thousands of pounds on foreign jaunts last year – including business class flights to China and five-star hotels.

Despite warning they would face bankruptcy if they failed to cut services, town hall bosses spent £90,000 of public money on trips abroad.

It comes after the Local Government Association said councils need an extra £10billion to plug the funding gap and improve services.

Responses to Freedom of Information requests from 44 councils revealed the public footed the bill of £89,699.85 for overseas trips for officials.

Because the audit is based on only a fraction of local authorities, the true figure is certain to be much higher.

Cash-strapped councils lavished tens of thousands of pounds on foreign jaunts last year – including business class flights to China and five-star hotels

Tory MP Ben Bradley hit out at the ‘hypocrisy’ of council bosses who claim they need more funding while spending money on ‘jollies’.

The investigation was carried out jointly by the Mail and the Taxpayers’ Alliance. It showed that Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council in Northern Ireland spent £23,000 on overseas trips last year, including £12,210 on business class flights to China.

Council tax-payers footed the bill for four staff and one elected official to spend five nights in the city of Leshan to attend the Sichuan International Travel Expo in September. Minutes from a council meeting last year approving the trip estimated flights would cost £750 per person – but the cost was three times that because bosses opted for business class flights at £2,442 per head.

The council claimed the trip was intended to create ‘international relations’ between the two cities.

Tory MP Ben Bradley (pictured) hit out at the ‘hypocrisy’ of council bosses who claim they need more funding while spending money on ‘jollies’

Angus Council, in Scotland, spent £5,723 on foreign trips last year, including more than £2,300 on golf shows around the world.

The council spent £610 at the five-star Savoy Le Grand Marrakech in Morocco at £120 per night while a staff member attended the International Golf Travel Market in October last year.

A council spokesman said: ‘Golf and golf tourism are hugely valuable to the local economy.’

Journalists ‘blacklisted’ over FOI

A secretive clearing house has been used by the Government to monitor Freedom of Information requests submitted by journalists, it has been claimed.

Whitehall departments have been accused of ‘blacklisting’ newspaper reporters and broadcasters by referring requests to the Cabinet Office unit.

Freedom of Information laws are a vital tool for holding power to account. The Mail’s major investigation into public sector spending – which this week uncovered £5.6billion worth of waste – relied on more than 4,000 FOIs. Submissions under the 2000 Act are meant to be ‘applicant-blind’. But an investigation by politics website openDemocracy revealed that the clearing house collates lists of journalists with details about their work.

It also claimed the unit gives advice to other departments ‘to protect sensitive information’, and has signed off on responses from other Whitehall bodies.

Tory MP David Davis called on ministers to explain the existence of the unit. But the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said its role was ‘purely … to ensure consistency and compliance across government’.

The findings are likely to provoke outrage among the public who saw an average council tax increase of £69 this year.

Budget cuts have seen services such as public toilets, libraries and parks closed and sold off.

Ironically, Oxfordshire County Council spent £1,837 to attend a conference on libraries in Aarhus, Denmark, in June 2019. The council said the trip was to ‘develop knowledge and improve services’.

Ards and North Down Council spent £4,262.16 to send its mayor Richard Smart and two council staff to the French Riviera for a property conference. The aim was to ‘attract a substantial amount of investment’, the council said.

Lancashire County Council spent £3,835.44 to attend the Paris International Airshow to ‘showcase the world-class aerospace industry’ in the local authority.

Most of the bill – £2,751 – went on accommodation moments from the Louvre at the boutique three-star Hotel Crayon by Elegancia.

The council said such trips were ‘hugely important to bringing investment into the county and helping to support hundreds of jobs in the sector’. Mr Bradley said he had seen ‘countless examples of waste’ by councils.

He added: ‘It’s not right to say we don’t have the money to sort out our roads and can’t run decent local services at the same time as spending on jollies.’

John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘Despite pleading poverty, local authorities are still some of the most wasteful bodies around.

‘Constantly whacking up council tax has hit ratepayers hard, and is totally unacceptable when there are still thousands of examples of savings still to be realised.’

The LGA said: ‘Councils weigh up the costs and benefits of long-distance travel and strive to get the best deal available.’

Tomorrow: The cost of health tourism in the pandemic

Chinese trip cost £11k… for 18-month ‘friendship’ 

Smiling for the camera as they signed a ‘friendship’ agreement between their two cities, they anticipated a long, fruitful partnership.

Earlier in the day, Wakefield council leader Peter Box and Mayor Zhou Hongbo of Nanning, China, joked as they compared traffic and the weather on Mr Hongbo’s first visit to West Yorkshire.

Mr Box declared it would not be the ‘old fashioned kind of twinning where nothing comes of it in terms of business’. 

Short-lived: Mayor Zhou Hongbo and Peter Box sign the agreement and smile for the camera

Now that’s barking! £250k spent on dog bags

Councils have spent almost £250,000 giving out ‘free’ dog waste bags for residents since 2019, the Daily Mail can reveal.

One of Britain’s most debt-ridden local authorities forked out nearly £40,000 to give walkers complimentary bags – while a further six councils spent more than £10,000 each.

And a council which slashed its budget for cutting the grass in parks spent almost £27,000 on bags for walkers to clear up their dogs’ mess.

Responses to Freedom of Information requests from 61 councils revealed a total spend of £245,016 on dog waste bags since 2019.

Spelthorne Borough Council in Surrey, which has a debt-funded commercial property portfolio worth £1billion, spent the most – splashing out £38,804 on dog waste bags over the past year.

Dog owners can collect the bags from dispensers at the entry and exit points of local parks.

The council said it had generated £53million gross income from its investments last year.

But less than 18 months later, the bond between the two cities was axed due to outrage over China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims.

This was after the council poured more than £11,500 of public money into a nine-day trip to the city, near the border with Vietnam.

This included £9,000 on flights, £285 on ‘chauffeur solutions’ – for taxis to and from the airport – and £573 for council officials to stay at the four-star Crowne Plaza hotel. 

A further £140 was spent on gifts from a local farm shop near Wakefield which sells jars of its own honey for £5 along with craft beer, gluten free pizzas and five types of Yorkshire pasta. 

The taxpayer was even charged £6 for travel adapters from Superdrug for the trip.

Three council staff members, three councillors and the chief executive of an equipment manufacturer attended the trip from 18 to 26 September 2019 to ‘extend and support the friendship agreement’.

The officials hosted a stand at the 16th China ASEAN Expo, an annual ‘international and economic trade event’.

 But less than a year later, the ‘friendship’ was terminated following public uproar about China’s brutal treatment of the Uyghur Muslims.

Wakefield’s four-year partnership with the city of Xiangyang was also scrapped, despite a plea from councillor Samantha Harvey who said ending the contract would be: ‘Potentially costly to us, culturally and economically.’

Tom Stannard, the council’s director for regeneration and economic growth, said the trip was planned to be ‘cost effective’ with value for money on travel and accommodation, adding: ‘Private sector delegates funded their own costs.’

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