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Council launches ‘book in advance’ scheme to cut £50,000 cost of foreign trips

Council launches ‘book in advance’ scheme to cut £50,000 cost of foreign trips

🕔05.May 2016

Birmingham city councillors and officials must give at least four weeks’ notice of business trips abroad in the latest effort to cut the cost of foreign travel at the Council House.

While the number of international visits has fallen recently, the council still spends about £50,000 a year sending staff and councillors on fact-finding missions, mainly to the Brussels-based Eurocities think-tank network.

The latest crackdown, imposing a four-week notice period, is designed to enable the council to shop around and obtain the cheapest possible flights, train tickets and hotel accommodation.

Short notice given of trips has forced the council to pay top rates for plane tickets in the past.

Visits proposed less than four weeks before the date of travel will be refused unless there are “exceptional circumstances” which will require a written explanation “and an extremely robust reason to travel”.

The latest breakdown shows the council spent £17,000 on overseas travel covering six visits by councillors and 28 visits by officers between December 2015 and April 2016.

The single largest item, at £6,797, was a four-day trip to the MIPIM real estate fair in Cannes by council leader John Clancy and two officers. Accommodation for the three worked out at £3,900 and flights were £1,361.

In a list of “practical outcomes” from MIPIM, the council noted that more than 700 delegates attended events showcasing Greater Birmingham, twice as many as the previous year.

Greater Birmingham’s largest ever delegation, comprising 42 public and private sector organisations, attended MIPIM 2016 and launched the Midlands Engine Pitchbook, 33 investment opportunities worth £14.4 billion.

A three-day trip by Lord Mayor Ray Hassall and an official to Dublin to mark the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising cost £1,543.

A council spokesperson said the trip was in recognition of the “significant Irish community in Birmingham and the strong connections between the city and Ireland”. It demonstrated that “the city values its links with the Irish community and it will encourage Irish people and those of Irish descent living in Birmingham to continue to play an active part in the local community”.

A three-day visit by the Lord Mayor to the Queen’s Royal Hussars in Germany cost £1,247.

The council said: “The visit was important in demonstrating that the Regiment is highly valued and that the city of Birmingham appreciates their commitment, not only to their city but also their country. Especially as they are overseas it was an opportunity to show the soldiers that they are not forgotten and are still part of the Birmingham community.”

One of the more expensive European trips, at a cost of £1,935, saw former council leader Sir Albert Bore and cabinet member Lisa Trickett take part in a Eurocities Executive Committee meeting.

A three-day trip to a Eurocities Mobility Forum meeting in Germany by a council officer cost £885 in total, but the cost of flights was £610. The trip was described as “extremely critical” in helping the council to introduce a clean air zone and mitigating the impact on businesses.

An overnight trip to Germany by a council officer to discuss the 2016 Frankfurt Christmas Market in Birmingham cost £323, of which £300 was the cost of flights.

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