Travel bill for the taxpayers

IT SHOULD not take a financial crisis to ensure that taxpayers' money is only spent in ways which directly benefit the public.

However, one of the knock-on effects of the squeeze on Government funding is that every penny spent by public authorities is now being subjected to greater scrutiny than ever before.

Today, the Yorkshire Post reveals the extent of that spending by public bodies in the region on travel and hotel costs for staff over the past three years.

Hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent sending jet-setting public servants on foreign and domestic trips at the expense of the rate-payer.

It is too easy to cynically dismiss all overseas travel on the public purse as junkets.

However, at a time when the public sector faces major job losses, council leaders need to be able to defend their spending records and set out exactly where and why the money has gone.

The figures obtained show one Yorkshire council spent an average of almost 9,000 a month on flights and hotel accommodation for staff on away days while another sent teams of councillors and officers on fact-finding visits across Europe to destinations including Spain, Holland, Switzerland, Slovenia and Germany at a cost of almost 10,000.

Spending on overseas travel was not limited to just the town hall. Records show staff at Doncaster NHS Primary Care Trust have been sent fact-finding to Vancouver while in Hull the PCT used club class flights to jet people to India for a week-long management course. The list goes on.

Local councils and trusts have defended many of these trips and point to the expertise and skills which their staff have gained as a result. For instance, it is important to recognise the role that local authorities can have attracting international investment and business to the region through trips overseas.

However, many councils were unable to say exactly how much they have spent on overseas travel and accommodation.

This is unacceptable. Although it represents only a fraction of overall budgets, such spending should not be lost in a myriad of spreadsheets but set out in public so that ratepayers can see exactly where their taxes are going and decide for themselves whether it is money well spent.