Monday 24 July 2017

UK council staff blew millions on luxuries

Heidi Blake and Conrad Quilty-Harper

Councils in Britain have spent tens of millions of pounds on taxpayer-funded credit cards with local authority executives and councillors treating themselves to first-class travel to foreign destinations and stays in five-star hotels.

One council even bought llamas on its credit card. Horsham Council in West Sussex spent £1,150 (€1,326) on two llamas to graze on communal land along with a small flock of sheep. They also spent £575 on live fish for a council pond.

Despite being ordered to cut spending by almost 30pc, town hall chiefs have continued to lavish hundreds of thousands of pounds on dinners at Michelin-starred restaurants, leisure trips and expensive gifts including ipads and video games while slashing jobs and scrapping front-line services.

An investigation has uncovered details of apparently questionable spending decisions by councillors and local government officials, with more than £2m (€2.3m) spent on travel over the last three years, including flights to Thailand, Kenya and Bermuda.

Documents show that the councils spent £2m on hotel bills, including stays at the famous Four Seasons in New York, the five-star Pan Pacific in Singapore, and the Athens Hilton.

Hospitality bills totalling £2.6m were paid on the cards, including dinners at Claridges (one of Britain's most expensive hotels), hog roasts and champagne receptions, as well as tens of thousands of pounds spent booking tables at award ceremonies.

A total of another £500,000 was spent on gifts such as Tiffany jewellery, Gucci products and silk ties, while online shopping sprees racked up bills of more than £300,000 at Argos and £150,000 at Amazon.

Spending at 188 councils across Britain was investigated using Freedom of Information laws.

Over the past three years, documents show these councils have spent more than £40m using the taxpayer-funded cards, which suggests total council spending of about £100m at all local authorities.

All of the councils only agreed to release information disclosing expenditure over £500 -- potentially meaning there are tens of millions of pounds in additional spending on lower value items or services.

Scandal

Last night, Whitehall officials were shocked when shown details of the credit card bills with senior Government sources claiming that another MPs-expenses style scandal may be emerging. It is not clear whether rules or laws have been broken or whether any public money can be reclaimed.

Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, charged with overseeing local authorities and cutting waste described the spending as "wild".

He said: "It appears that for years, some councils have been enjoying the high life paid for by you and me.

"Now that we are forcing councils to release details of their expenditure, the culture of wild overspends and excess which became the norm under Labour, will hopefully become a thing of the past."

Despite being ordered by Mr Pickles to publish all spending over £500 by January, 252 of the councils contacted claimed to be unable to disclose their credit card bills when contacted. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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