Council's trip to Madrid defended
A council has defended spending taxpayers' money on sending a delegation to Spain to inspect a company's bin collection service.
Gosport Borough Council is currently looking at axing jobs to meet a £2 million cut in its budget. But the Tory-led Hampshire local authority spent a total of £7,344 on site visits as it looks to award £175 million in contracts for a wide range of services over a 15-year period.
The Conservative leader of the council said the visit to Spain cost about £1,000 and led to the awarding of a contract that would save the council £200,000 per year.
The visit included included sending a team, made up of a councillor, two council officers and a resident, to Madrid to inspect the street cleaning and bin collection services of a firm called Urbaser.
Councillor Peter Chegwyn, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the council, said the council could have saved money by visiting an Urbaser operation just a few miles away on the Isle of Wight.
He said: "I think it's an appalling waste of public money - for a council that is considering millions in spending cuts, I am outraged that public money is being spent in this way. David Cameron would be shocked at the way his colleagues in local government are behaving."
Cllr Mark Hook, the Conservative leader of the council, said: "These contracts are the biggest undertaking that the council has ever done. The services that Urbaser were tendering for were not being provided on the Isle of Wight and we needed a comparable service to look at.
"It's like buying a car - you wouldn't buy it without seeing it and talking to the seller. The way we dealt with the tendering was the right way to do it and to spend less than £1,000 to send a team over to make a saving of £3 million over the 15 years makes sound financial sense."
Cllr Hook added that the most expensive inspection visit was actually a trip to Manchester. He added that under European Union rules, if each firm that had competed for a contract had not been dealt with equally, then it could have left the council open to legal action.