£35,000 spent on staff trips to awards functions

A SOUTH Yorkshire council has spent £35,000 of taxpayers' money sending its staff and elected members to awards ceremonies around the country over the past three years.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal Rotherham Borough Council has been by far the region's biggest spender on trips to a host of local government awards ceremonies since 2007.

The vast majority of this expenditure came in the first of the three years analysed by the Yorkshire Post – 2007/08 – when Rotherham spent more than 22,000 on awards ceremonies in a single year. Previous years' figures are not known.

The council's spending in 2007/08 included a total of 7,300 sending 18 staff members and councillors to the Hilton Hotel on Park Lane, London, for the 2007 Municipal Journal Awards, where the council booked out two full tables.

In the same financial year it also spent 3,000 sending eight representatives to the 2008 Local Government Chronicle Awards – also held in London – and another 2,000 sending representatives to the Association for Public Service Excellence Awards in Gateshead.

As funding for councils began to be squeezed however, Rotherham did cut its spending on awards ceremonies.

It still, however, paid out 9,100 in 2008/09, including nearly 4,000 for another trip to the London Hilton, this time for 10 members of staff. The total figure for attending the 2008 MJ local government awards is likely to have been considerably higher as this figure does not include travel costs.

The council spent 3,700 on attending awards ceremonies in 2009/10.

A spokesperson for Rotherham Borough Council said this drop in spending "reflected its prudent budgeting".

She said: "Awards promote pride and achievement by staff and also boost Rotherham's image and reputation, which is vital to attract inward investment that will create jobs and boost our economy.

"Some events generated income, which more than offset the costs of the events.

"Like all authorities in recent years, we have had to make changes to address budget reductions while continuing to provide our front-line services. This means that every item of spending, including award ceremonies, has to be considered and scrutinised first."

In total, figures show Yorkshire's councils have spent 127,373 on sending employees to awards ceremonies in the last three financial years.

Hull Council was the biggest spender last year, spending more than 10,000 in 2009/10. This included 7,200 for two tables at the Local Government Chronicle Awards last March, which 10 of its staff attended.