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Birmingham council runs up £170k foreign travel bill in ‘age of austerity’

Birmingham council runs up £170k foreign travel bill in ‘age of austerity’

🕔14.Jan 2015

It may be the age of austerity and the end of local government as we know it, but the financial squeeze on town halls doesn’t appear to have slowed down Birmingham city council’s penchant for foreign travel, writes Paul Dale.

The council spent £170,367 on 444 fact-finding trips abroad for councillors and officers in just over three and a half years from April 2011, according to the latest figures.

Most of the visits were to European capitals in connection with the Eurocities organisation and the European Union. The bill to the Birmingham council tax payer would have been far higher were it not for the fact that the cost of many of the trips was picked up by European bodies.

The council has said it is monitoring travel closely and only approving vital trips which must be approved by deputy chief executive Paul Dransfield. It also claims Birmingham’s size as the largest public authority in the country makes it inevitable that the bill for travelling to conferences and seminars will be high.

However, the number of foreign visits appears to be on increasing rather than decreasing.

In the nine months from April 2014 the council spent £42,117 to send 42 officials and eight politicians abroad, putting 2014-15 on course to be the costliest year for travel since 2011-12.

Scarcely a European city of note has not been visited by Birmingham since April.

Venues included Brussels (seven times), Copenhagen (twice), Gothenburg, Ghent, Venice, Rome, Paris, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Munich (twice), Valencia (four times), Budapest, Wroclaw (twice), Krakow, Nantes, Leipzig, Barcelona, Nicosia, Genoa, Bologna, Milan, Madeira, Oslo, Lisbon, and Zamora in Spain.

The most expensive trip since April was undertaken by Lisa Trickett, the cabinet member for a green, smart and sustainable city, and an unnamed officer who attended a three-day Eurocities mobility forum in Venice at a cost of £3,250 including flights, accommodation and subsistence

The council said the visit had “enabled understanding of the opportunities and process for resources to support Birmingham city council as well as express our interest in bidding for available resources that may assist with studies and implementation of wider connectivity” around the Trans-European Transport Corridor.

A spokesman added: “Birmingham will remain active on this working group in order to maximise opportunities to support the delivery of HS2 and other transnational opportunities for our region. As it is a requirement to have support of the Government Agency, Department for Transport, on this matter, making those connections was important.”

Council leader Sir Albert Bore and two officials attended the Eurocities AGM in Munich at a cost of £2,139, where Sir Albert gave a speech outlining Birmingham’s achievements as chair of the Eurocities Environment Forum over the past two years.

Deputy council leader Ian Ward and an officer spent £1,071 attending a Eurocities Culture Forum in Strasbourg. The theme for the forum was supporting and reflecting the multiple cultural identities in a local population.

The council sent an unnamed officer from the development unit to Leipzig in Germany for two days to attend a Fairtrade Association conference at a cost of £640.

Another official from the development unit represented the council at the three-day Expo Real investment event in Munich at a cost of £1,138 including flights, accommodation and subsistence.

A two-day EU Open Days event in Brussels was attended by two officers at a cost of £1,547. The event was said by the council to feature the “largest series of week-long workshops, seminars and events in the European calendar”.

Fleet and Waste Management sent an official to Barcelona to participate in a study tour examining alternative waste disposal options adopted by the Barcelona City Council at a cost of £374.

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