Councils spend £700k on international travel with your cash… but they say it’s worth it

CASH-STRAPPED councils have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on international travel and hotels over the last three years.

Officials have charged the taxpayer for a host of trips to far-flung locations such as Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi and Miami, The Sunday Post can reveal.

Glasgow City Council alone has spent £221,877.25 on flights and hotels since the 2013/14 financial year.

Critics branded the spending “ludicrous”, but council bosses defended the trips, insisting they are vital to attract investment and jobs.

John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “This culture of taxpayer-funded jollies has got to stop.

“How on earth do council bosses justify spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ money on expensive trips and luxury hotels, while colleagues are facing redundancy to find necessary savings?

“Hard-pressed families picking up the bill will be furious, and rightly so.”

A Sunday Post investigation using Freedom of Information laws shows Scots councils spent at least £703,439.34 on trips outside the UK in the last three years.

And a close examination of the figures reveals a string of journeys spanning the globe from the Caribbean to Japan to the Middle East.

Falkirk Council spent £10,896 on one nine-day “council mission” to China in 2014 – but now faces making £61 million-worth of cuts over the next three years.

Dundee City Council splashed £7021.88 on foreign trips, including sending Lord Provost Bob Duncan to the Mozart Festival in Wurzburg – while wrestling with cuts of £23m.
Dundee City Council splashed £7021.88 on foreign trips, including sending Lord Provost Bob Duncan to the Mozart Festival in Wurzburg – while wrestling with cuts of £23m.

Meanwhile, bosses in Edinburgh splashed out £8500 simply registering their attendance at a trade fair in Munich.

And last year £4000 was spent on a visit to a property investment conference in Cannes for the council’s chief executive Andrew Kerr and an unnamed officer.

Mr Kerr – who boasts an annual salary of £165,000 – made the trip in March, jetting off on the same day news broke that 500 council staff had agreed to take voluntary redundancy as part of ongoing cost-cutting.

Elsewhere, Dundee Lord Provost Bob Duncan and an unnamed official made two visits to Alexandria in Virginia, USA, to watch the “Scottish Christmas Walk” at a combined cost of more than £4000 to the taxpayer.

Figures also show Mr Duncan visited the annual Mozart Festival in Dundee’s twin city of Wurzburg, Germany, in 2014 – costing the council £717.54.

Aberdeen City Council has spent £103,114.09 on overseas trips since September 2015, the last date from which it would release figures.

While the local authority declined to provide full details – insisting that doing so would prove too expensive – it revealed £5586.76 had been spent sending 12 staff to Nantes in August last year.

In Orkney and Shetland – which spent £41,850.92 and £50,432.24 respectively on overseas trips – staff made multiple journeys to events run by one think-tank.

Orkney council convener Steven Heddle attended Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions events five times in 2016 alone – travelling to Haarlem in the Netherlands in February, Strasbourg in March, Brussels in April and Greece in May, before jetting off to the Azores in November.

In Greece, he stayed at the five-star Rodos Palace Hotel in Rhodes, which boasts of combining an “international convention centre with the pleasure inherent to a deluxe resort hotel”.

Orkney Islands Council convenor Steven Heddle made repeated trips to conferences abroad, including to the Greek islands – while the authority struggled with a £12 million funding gap.
Orkney Islands Council convenor Steven Heddle made repeated trips to conferences abroad, including to the Greek islands – while the authority struggled with a £12 million funding gap.

Officials in Shetland made seven trips to events associated with the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions in 2016, and also stayed at the Rodos Palace Hotel.

Meanwhile, that council’s spending on foreign trips rocketed from £3276.75 in 2014 to £38,533.16 last year – an increase of more than 1000%.

Two South Ayrshire officials were sent to Amsterdam to promote Prestwick Airport at a conference in October – costing £1752.08.

The Sunday Post previously revealed it could take more than a decade before taxpayers get back any of the £40 million spent on loss-making Prestwick, which was bought by the Scottish Government for just £1 in 2013.

In Angus, officials spent £5597 promoting Carnoustie Country Golf in locations such as Germany, Sweden, Italy and Spain – staying at the five-star Sheraton La Caleta in Tenerife in 2015.

Last night councils defended the spending, with most insisting the trips were intended to attract jobs and investment to their communities.

An Edinburgh Council spokeswoman said: “Since 2012, Edinburgh has attracted major foreign direct investments totalling over £1.3bn, creating more than 5700 jobs and boosting the city’s economy.

“The council is one of many partners and businesses in the city working together to attract new jobs through this investment.

“Commercial property investment in the city has witnessed a marked increase since 2013, rising significantly from £174.2m in 2013 to £331m in 2016.”

Edinburgh Council sent chief executive Andrew Kerr on £4000 trip to the French resort – on same day it emerged 500 staff were taking voluntary redundancy.
Edinburgh Council sent chief executive Andrew Kerr on £4000 trip to the French resort – on same day it emerged 500 staff were taking voluntary redundancy.

She said attending events such as the Cannes property investment conference was a vital part of this process.

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said the main reason for business trips abroad was to attract inward investment. He said: “The money and the jobs we attract to the city from overseas far outweigh the expenditure.”

A Dundee City Council spokesman said: “Various holders of the post of Lord Provost of Dundee have attended these events over a number of years, building links between Dundee and its twin cities.”

A spokesman for Shetland Islands Council said the authority was an active member of a number of international maritime and environmental bodies, and had also made overseas trips as part of its efforts to support the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal and to inspect suitable tug boats.

Orkney Council convenor Steven Heddle said the overseas trips he attended had been vital in steering European policy on island and maritime communities, adding: “At an average of £864 per trip when hundreds of milions of pounds of support for the Highlands and Islands was at stake in the programming period, it’s worth the expense and the hard work.”

An Orkney council spokesman added that almost half the cash spent on travel was linked to research at its further education college and marketing Orkney as a hub for maritime activity – while flights to and from the islands suffered from high prices.

A Falkirk Council spokesperson said: “Our visit three years ago was at the invitation of our Chinese sister city and aimed to establish business links and pursue cultural and educational opportunities with a country that has the largest economy in the world. It was a business-focused visit.”

An Aberdeen City Council spokeswoman said: “The council supports trade missions and activities in target and emerging markets, including attendance at oil and gas conferences around the world, to promote the city and its offering to companies particularly in the energy sectors. Expenditure on international travel is very closely managed.”

Lesley Bloomer, South Ayrshire Council’s Executive Director of Economy, Neighbourhood and Environment, said attending events such as the Amsterdam aerospace conference had “a proven track record of helping to deliver new, high quality jobs”.

Angus Council defended its expenditure on promoting Carnoustie Country Golf, with a spokesman saying: “The aim is to raise awareness about Angus and attract international tourists to the area, not only for the benefit of our golf and leisure industry, but also in support of our hotels, restaurants, retailers and other firms.

“This can be achieved by building effective relationships with tour operators.”


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