Wednesday, 15 August 2012

New research has revealed the cost of air travel by local authorities in the North East over the last three years – and it makes for predictably disgraceful reading.

The investigation by the TaxPayers’ Alliance establishes for the first time that nearly £470,000 was spent on flights by councils in the North East of England between April 2009 and February 2012.

The destinations include Beijing, South Africa, Washington DC and a host of European cities, for conferences, twinning visits and ‘Friendship Agreement activity’.

The key findings of the report are:

Sunderland City Council spent more than £210,000 on flights from 2009 to 2012, the biggest spenders in the North East. Of this, £62,000 was spent on flights as part of its Friendship Agreement with Washington DC. The council also spent £6,168 flying staff to South Africa as part of its bid to become a World Cup host city.

Sunderland City Council also spent over £10,000 on two trips to South Africa to attend a Commonwealth Local Government Forum Good Practice Scheme project and £8,465 on flights to China for Business Development.

Durham County Council (the largest authority in the North East) spent almost £13,000 on flights.

Only one council, Redcar and Cleveland Council, did not pay for any flights.

Newcastle City Council spent almost £110,000 on flights, and North Tyneside Borough Council spent over £40,000. Both councils failed to give reasons for the flights, and, in many cases, Newcastle could not provide destinations either.

Middlesbrough Council spent over £1,700 on flights to Germany for town twinning events. The council also spent £7,500 on flights to various European cities, New York and Miami to attend performing arts events and arts fairs.

Gateshead Borough Council spent £736 attending the EU Covenant of Mayors and £630 on a flight to Shanghai for a Working with Headteachers’ Groups meeting. The Council also spent £15,192 on a Youth Exchange Visit to Komatsu City, Japan, and £8,377 on another visit to Komatsu City to attend 20th Anniversary celebrations.

Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council spent £1,390 on flights to Rimini, Italy, to attend the Entente Florale Europe Award Giving Ceremony and Exhibitions.

Three councils increased their spending on flights from 2010-11 to 2011-12. North Tyneside Borough Council spent £14,485 in 2011-12, compared to £11,856 the year before. Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council’s spending increased from £5,730 in 2010-11 to £14,215 in 2011-12. Hartlepool Borough Council spent £224 on flights in 2011-12, a slight increase from the previous year’s £160.

Gateshead Borough Council reduced its total spending on flights from £16,428 in 2010-11 to £9,854 in 2011-12. Middlesbrough Council reduced its spending on flights from £7,481 in 2010-11 to £3,927 in 2011-11.

Sunderland City Council, the region’s biggest spenders, reduced its bill from £67,310 in 2010-11 to £50,342 in 2011-12.

Northumberland County Council reduced its flights bill by the biggest margin. It spent £14,769 in 2010-11 compared to £2,643 in 2011-12.

South Tyneside Borough Council, after numerous requests, failed to provide any information. Darlington Borough Council gave a partial response detailing flights from just one department.

All of the councils in the North East are Labour controlled except Northumberland County Council, which has no overall control, with the Liberal Democrats being the largest single group thereon.

Matthew Sinclair, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said:

‘It’s appalling that some councils have been jet-setting across the globe at taxpayers’ expense without any obvious benefit to local residents. All of these local authorities have to make necessary spending cuts so it’s absolutely barmy that some feel they can afford to travel the world for self-indulgent twinning visits and conferences.

‘The stark difference in the number of flights undertaken by various town halls in the region suggests that some councils are being much more prudent than others. With modern technology such as video conferencing widely available, no-one need be spending large sums of taxpayers’ money on plane tickets.’

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