SHEFFIELD Council is continuing to spend large sums of money on expensive rail fares by failing to book in advance – two years after a pledge to crack down on the problem.
Under the Your Right to Know campaign, The Star can reveal that in some cases more than £200 has been spent on individual trips to London for conferences, which is nearly six times the cheapest £34 return fare if booked in advance.
Some trips were booked at short notice but even then substantial discounts are available if purchasing tickets at least one day in advance.
Savings can also be made by making at least one leg of return journeys at off-peak times, such as heading home from London later in the evening.
The problem was first revealed in 2010 and the old Lib Dem council administration pledged to tackle the issue, which they blamed on booking tickets through an external agency.
But figures released show that £1,603 was spent paying councillors’ train fares to conferences between September and last month – with six trips to London and one trip to Bath costing between £150 and £202.50 each.
Councillors covered the cost of three out of the total 18 conferences where journeys were made by train.
The most expensive journeys were made by Coun Harry Harpham, cabinet member for housing, to a meeting of the Local Government Association, and Coun Ian Auckland, shadow cabinet member for transport, to a conference about the planned high speed rail network. Both cost £202.50.
The figures also show £2,644 was spent by councillors on attending conferences between September and January, plus £521.83 on hotels, £80.82 on car mileage and £67.40 on taxis.
Of the conference fees, more money was spent on opposition Lib Dem councillors – £1,419 – than the £1,225 cost of fees for events attended by ruling Labour councillors.
Events attended discussed issues ranging from planning to sport, enterprise, housing and children’s services.
Lib Dem opposition leader Coun Shaffaq Mohammedsaid: “While members should be able to have the knowledge and information to do their respective jobs, there is no excuse for the local taxpayer being ripped off on purchasing rail tickets.
“The Labour leadership needs to get a grip of the council’s wasteful spending and council officer managers need to explain why they have ignored a clear directive from members about booking tickets in advance.”
Sheffield Council leader Coun Julie Dore said: “I am undertaking an immediate review of spending on rail fares by both councillors and officers to make sure we are paying the cheapest fare – although there are occasions where tickets must be bought at short notice and travel made at peak times.
“No first class travel is allowed.”