Figures obtained by the YEP show locations councillors have travelled to include Lagos, Nairobi, Cannes, Milan, Hong Kong, Paris and Singapore.
A total of 34 overseas trips were made by councillors between April 2013 and March 2018, at a combined cost of more than £31,000 – with more than half being paid for directly by Leeds City Council, according data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
A council spokesperson said the trips were important to represent Leeds on the world stage, and to attract overseas investment into the region. They also insisted councillors would never travel first class.
Two of the trips, to southeast Asia, were taken by council leader Judith Blake were taken as part of a UK Trade and Investment mission. The first was to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in July and August 2015. The second was a trip to Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu the following month.
The visits cost a combined total of £8,073.99, but only £631 of this was paid directly by Leeds City Council, while a remaining £7,444,94 was paid by an “other organisation”.
Leeds City Council confirmed the other organisation was the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership – a part-public organisation which aims to boost business investment in West Yorkshire.
South of France conference
Another trip, this time in March 2018, during which Coun Blake visited Cannes in the south of France to represent Leeds at the annual MIPIM conference, cost the council £1,936.69.
MIPIM is the world’s largest property conference, and is normally attended by council leaders from across the country in order to promote their districts as good investment opportunities.
When Leeds City Council was asked to demonstrate benefit gained from this trip, a response read: “A variety of representatives from groups and organisations across the world will attend MIPIM, which includes council leaders from many cities in the country. In terms of benefit gained, we don’t have hard statistics and figures for 2018 to compare with, as it is too early in our process.
“But the trend for inward investment is in steady growth with Leeds being fourth most popular city for FDI [foreign direct investment] in the UK and [has] approximately 21 open enquiries.”AfricaOne of the more interesting trips made was by Coun Mohammed Rafique to Nigerian city Lagos in September 2017 to attend a conference on socially inclusive cities.
Although the trip cost a total of £1,740.63, the data showed that none of this was paid for by the council. The authority confirmed the costs were covered by the Global Challenges Research Fund grant (GCRF), which supported the University of Leeds on a project around Socially Inclusive Cities.
The GCRF’s website describes the organisation as: “A £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK Government in late 2015 to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries.”
In total, the trips ran up a combined cost of £31,386.53 with £17,055.89 coming from Leeds City Council coffers.
What Leeds City Council said
A Leeds City Council spokesperson said: “Leeds City Council has an important role to play in representing the people of Leeds and championing the city to a variety of audiences from both a civic and economic perspective.
“As well as maintaining long established civic links in Europe and China, our international activities provide us with the opportunity to participate in learning and best practice initiatives that contribute to the further improvement of vital services that we provide locally.
“We work with partners to promote Leeds as a great place to visit, study, work and do business, and also advocate for Leeds-based businesses and institutions abroad.
“Any travel which does need to be taken by members and officers is always considered extremely carefully by a strict process and to ensure they offer real benefits to the city and value for money in terms of potential return. Every attempt is always taken to keep any costs to an absolute minimum. Neither councillors nor officers will ever travel first class.”
It also listed examples of investment into the city, including Channel 4, Burberry, Sky, HMRC and the Perform Group.