Dismay at councils’ five-star ‘jolly’ as jobs axed

Disbelief: Simon Clement-Jones
Disbelief: Simon Clement-Jones
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Yorkshire council leaders spent thousands of pounds attending a lavish London event to celebrate their own performance while presiding over cuts to jobs and budgets, the Yorkshire Post has learnt.

Delegates at the black tie event, held at the five-star Grosvenor House Hotel, were treated to entertainment and a four-course meal to toast success in “delivering services in challenging times”.

Last night, councils across the region admitted taxpayers had footed the bill for senior staff to travel to the capital for the awards dinner, as workers faced redundancy and services were slashed.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, currently laying off 30 per cent of its workforce and cutting three of its six departments, spent £4,000 sending 10 representatives to the awards.

Meanwhile Sheffield Council, which earlier this year announced 570 job cuts, said it shelled out £1,700 plus VAT for a table, and £1,200 on travel and London hotels for the six staff who attended.

East Riding Council spent £3,000 sending six people, while North East Lincolnshire Council spent almost £1,000 on travel for five officers and three elected members, Its other costs were met by private sector partner Balfour Beatty.

Liberal Democrat councillor Simon Clement-Jones, the opposition finance spokesman on Sheffield Council, yesterday expressed disbelief at the event’s price tag.

He added: “At a time when low paid council staff like refuse collectors are facing redundancy this seems like an excessive waste of council funds.

“Leading Labour councillors claim they can’t afford £50 to provide a snow warden with a spade, yet splash out £3,000 on a posh dinner. I’m sure that local residents will not be amused to see their taxes frittered away in this manner and it opens up the question of what councillors see as their priorities.”

Representatives from both West Yorkshire Joint Services and WY Law, which are funded by all West Yorkshire councils, are also understood to have attended, but no spending figures were released.

Hull Council admitted that it had paid for one table and Scarborough Council said it had sent several staff from its legal department, but neither would release figures on the bills paid unless a request was made under Freedom of Information law.

The awards event, run by the Local Government Chronicle, a magazine for local authority workers and members, took place in the Great Room of the Grosvenor House, in London’s Mayfair, on March 14.

Coun John Blackie, the chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s finance and resources committee, said the revelations raised questions over what else was being funded.

He added: “We have seen our budgets slashed by central Government and seen a third of our staff cut. None of them wanted to leave. We are also short of resources for keeping the park up to a national standard.

“This is totally unacceptable spending on what was essentially an evening’s entertainment.”

Coun Blackie added: “We do have a finance and resources committee to oversee spending, and although this amount was under our remit, you would have hoped that the chairman and the chief executive, who both attended, would have asked about the wisdom of this.

“You do have to worry that nobody thought about the public perception of an authority which is pleading poverty and then spends what is quite frankly a huge amount of money on what can only be described as a jolly.”

martin.slack@ypn.co.uk