Row over council spending on flights, hotels and hospitality

Sheffield Council has been criticised for spending over £1.1 million on hospitality – but Labour has hit back saying the Lib Dems have “misinterpreted data”.

Monday, 25th March 2019, 12:22 pm
Updated Monday, 25th March 2019, 3:59 pm

Documents obtained by Coun Paul Scriven show over £1.1 million has been spent on flights, hotels, internal and external hospitality over the past five years.

The total cost of hotel accommodation for council staff and members was £398,010, while £84,404 was spent on flights, including trips to China and Norway.

External hospitality cost £68,129 and another £607,986 was spent on internal hospitality including drinks and food for meetings and events.

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Labour says many of the travel and hospitality costs were funded by third parties and investment in the city from major companies “far outweighs” what has been spent.

Coun Scriven accused Labour of “not being on top of basic spending.” He said: “This is a question of priorities. £1.1m of local people’s hard-earned taxes is a lot of money.

“We know budgets are tight and council tax has risen while services for some of our most vulnerable are being cut. The Labour council has chosen sandwiches over social workers, flights over foster carers and hotels over support for the homeless.

“The Lib Dems want to give young carers free bus travel across Sheffield. We want to give foster carers a council tax rebate. We want to give community schemes such as Unity Gym and De Hood a grant to help cut knife crime. All of this still isn’t half of what the Labour council has spent on flights, food, drinks and hotels.”

Labour said the management of the city’s finances “has been nothing but stringent and carefully planned.”

Coun Olivia Blake, cabinet member for finance, said: “Sheffield is one of the UK’s major cities but there are many other big cities competing for investment. Opportunities for city growth are global not local and we can either sit and wait for them to come to us or go and seek them out.

“This year alone we have seen the success of this approach as Boeing, McLaren and Pretty Little Thing have all taken residence in the city, their investment far outweighing the money that has been spent on travel and hospitality over the last five years, not to mention the number of jobs this has created and the increased talent that our city is attracting.

“Many of the council’s travel and hospitality costs were funded by third parties in the European Union. Where this was not the case we are confident that bookings were made subject to policies, which ensure that journeys paid for by the council must be for reasons that benefit the city and its residents.

“Coun Scriven has misinterpreted the data for his own political gain, he understands that a city must invest in order to grow and this criticism of the council’s financial management over the last five years demonstrates that he is stuck in Sheffield’s past, rather than thinking about our future.”

Coun Scriven condemned the hospitality costs in particular, He said: “When I was council leader we cut back on spending like this to protect vital services people rely on. I stopped the flowing of coffee and tea in the town hall and asked for monthly updates on such spending.”

Labour said internal hospitality was not council staff having free drinks at meetings but refreshments for civil servants, members of the community or visitors.

One event was a Town Hall ceremony to honour inspirational women from Sheffield communities. Around 50 women were served tea and coffee, plus a piece of cake.

At another event, ambassadors for the Rugby League World Cup travelled to Sheffield for the RLWC Trophy Tour. Two athletes were served sandwiches, plus tea, coffee and orange juice. Labour says this contributed to Sheffield’s successful bid to host games in the Rugby League World Cup tournament in 2021.

Labour says from 2008 – 2011, during the Lib Dems’ control of the council, spending on hospitality amounted to £1,108,936.