Council’s hospitality spending under fire after outstripping bigger authority next door

A political row over the level of spending on council hospitality in Barnsley has escalated as it has been revealed the council’s bill was almost double that of the much bigger authority in neighbouring Sheffield over the last five years – figures described as “indefensible”.

By Paul Whitehouse
Wednesday, 29 May, 2019, 08:36
Coun Hannah Kitching

The Lib Dem group on Barnsley Council asked a series of questions over spending on hospitality, flights and hotel bills when the full council met, with answers provided showing a total spend of just under £1.5m. According to the Lib Dems, equivalent figures for Sheffield City Council add up to £1.15m. The larger authority spent more on hotels and flights, but its £676,000 bill for internal and external hospitality was overshadowed by Barnsley’s bill of around £1.28m. That cost was defended as “reasonable” when the Barnsley figures were announced, with much of the justification put down to providing hospitality for military personnel on armed forces day. Coun Alan Gardiner told colleagues: “I am sure these are more than reasonable. “Most of the hospitality is done for people of the borough, including the football club. “The biggest event we have is welcoming back our troops, we welcome our lads and lasses back to the town. “The value we get when these heroes are marching up and down Market Hill is immeasurable. It is worth every penny.” Some of the money spent will be reclaimed from other organisations, the council say. However, the Lib Dems have set the cost against spending in Sheffield and group leader Coun Hannah Kitching said: ““As stand-alone figures Barnsley Council’s spending on hospitality and catering is pretty shocking. “But when viewed in comparison with Sheffield City’s spending it is absolutely indefensible. “Barnsley’s Labour council has spent more on the last five years on catering than Sheffield have spent on all these things combined, £1.2 million on sandwiches for civic events is over half a million pounds more than Sheffield have spent catering for theirs. “How our borough can possibly need to spent more than a considerably larger city like Sheffield is absolutely beyond me. “We know that local budgets are tight - Council Tax has risen significantly while basic services and provision for our most vulnerable have been cut. The Labour council clearly cannot manage basic spending. “This is a question of priorities. Just like in Sheffield Barnsley’s Labour Council have chosen sandwiches over social workers, flights over foster carers and hotels over support for the homeless.” Coun David Greenhough, who’s questions revealed the spending level, added: “I asked the Cabinet Spokesperson if he thought this level of spending was reasonable. He responded that he absolutely did. “I disagree, and I know that the taxpayers of our borough will disagree too.” A Barnsley Council spokesperson said: “It is not possible to provide a meaningful explanation of the differing costs without having detailed analysis of Sheffield City Council’s expenditure.

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“However, one explanation may be that the figures provided at full council last week include expenditure which is subsequently recovered from the various third party organisations who utilise the Council’s facilities.”