Council chiefs rack up £85,000 bill on 300 flights

Council chiefs have been racking up the airmiles. Picture: Craig Stephen
Council chiefs have been racking up the airmiles. Picture: Craig Stephen
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JET-SETTING city council bosses have spent around £85,000 of taxpayers’ cash on nearly 300 flights around the world since 2013, the Evening News has learned.

Miami, Dubai, Nashville and Barcelona all feature on a list of international destinations visited by officers and councillors over the last two years.

Among the big ticket items are a £3100 trip for three council employees to the FT Global Financial Centres Finance Week in Toronto, a £1685 “relationship building” and business promotion flight for one to the Chinese cities of Beijing, Xi’an, Shenzhen and Tianjin, and bookings worth nearly £440 for the MIPIM real estate exhibition in Cannes. But thousands have also been splashed out on scores of trips to conferences, meetings and training events in domestic towns and cities including London, Birmingham and Manchester.

Detail of the sums forked out comes as the Capital aims to slice £67 million from its budget by 2017-18, with basic services such as public toilets and white line painting on football pitches among those in line for the chop.

Critics today blasted the figures, saying they were difficult to explain at a time when local authorities are battling to balance the books.

Eben Wilson, director of Taxpayer Scotland, said: “Edinburgh may be a capital city but it does not need its local government to act like an international corporate organisation. There may be a case for a few flights in a year but to have hundreds being taken is really not justifiable.

“Taxpayers need to know and need to see some calculation of the value for money obtained from these trips.

“Without knowing if they have brought more revenue to the city, they can only be seen as jollies or junkets – on the backs of working taxpayers.”

As debate continues about how local authorities live within their means amid the Westminster Government’s ongoing austerity agenda, Mr Wilson said the city council and other local authorities would have to “reassess” what they are doing for communities.

And he stressed that the monetary value of plane -tickets did not include the cost of labour lost as a result of officers being given time away from core duties.

“The travel costs hide the loss of staff time that has to be added to this expense,” he said. “It’s very difficult to see how so many trips would not impinge on normal council work, or interfere with normal council work – so taxpayers are losing twice.

“We need our councils to stay focused on local issues. If there is a need for an international presence, there are quangos contracted to do these promotions on behalf of all Scots. We don’t need local councils to compete on promotions.

“This money would have been better spent on the needy and the struggling across Edinburgh.”

Opposition figures said the expense and range of flight destinations were cause for concern. Councillor Iain Whyte, finance spokesman for the city’s Tories, said: “With the more interesting destinations, it’s about time we had a review of this matter. If it could be brought to committee, it means there could be some openness and transparency.

“It might be more appropriate for the council to go on some of those trips. But if there’s more than one public body involved, and particularly with finances as tight as they are, we have to look at appointing a lead organisation rather than having a number of organisations sending a representative.”

City chiefs said flights taken by economic development staff were planned well in advance and presented to the Capital’s economy committee.

And they said trips helped secure millions of pounds in new inward investment.

A council spokeswoman said: “As well as being a capital city, Edinburgh is internationally renowned for its history, heritage, festivals, education, financial and technology sectors. The council employs around 19,000 staff, some of which are required to travel in the UK and overseas to ensure we continue to compete on an international stage.”