Sheffield Council spends thousands courting Chinese investors – including gifts of rulers and bookmarks

Sheffield Council has spent more than £150,000 pursuing a deal with Chinese investors – including buying bags, rulers and bookmarks as gifts.

Wednesday, 27th March 2019, 6:35 pm
Updated Thursday, 28th March 2019, 4:48 pm
Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore signs a 60-year partnership deal with Wang Chunming, chairman and president of Chinese firm Sichuan Guodong Construction Group, in Sheffield's sister city Chengdu.

The authority’s former leader Lord Paul Scriven criticised the spending, saying ‘not one penny, brick or job” had been invested in the city as a result.

Senior councillors declined to be interviewed but a statement from the council said Sheffield would “experience benefits from our relationship with China for many years to come.”

A Freedom of Information request found:

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£2,372 has been spent on bags, belts and accessories

£49,623 has been spent on travel, flights and hotels including chauffeured cars

£99,557 has been spent on business and marketing consultants

Lord Scriven, who is also a serving councillor, said: “This is a candy floss deal – when you touch it, it disintegrates into nothing and leaves you feeling rather sick.

“There’s not one brick, not one penny and not one job which has come out of this investment. They only thing being spent is taxpayers’ money.”

Edward Highfield, director of city growth, said in a statement: “We have hosted a number of high-profile delegations from China and other countries.

“This has been a well-established and supported economic development strategy which has increased the city’s profile immeasurably on the global stage and promoted investment opportunities.

“We believe that the city will experience benefits from our relationship with China for many years to come.”

The council said ‘bags, belts and accessories’ was the name of a specific classification on its finance recording system.

“This expenditure relates to the purchase of a large quantity of Sheffield bags and promotional items such as rulers and Made in Sheffield cutlery, procured from local companies, to be used as marketing collateral for a number of international delegations and visitors, including the Chinese, over recent years.

“Providing marketing materials such as these is customary practice and assists with building the city’s external brand and demonstrating the quality of Made in Sheffield products.

“In many cases these costs were reclaimed from a central government-funded project and have been used on many occasions over the last three years. Items like Sheffield tote bags, badges, bookmarks and rulers have been purchased, but belts have not.”

The council says the chauffeured cars relate to MB Chauffeurs, a Worksop taxi company which was used for the hire of a minibus to take Chinese delegates on visits across the city region including to the Olympic Legacy Park and Advanced Manufacturing Park.

The statement added: “Taxis, and not chauffeur-driven cars, have been used at certain times to transport visiting delegates during their visits to the city or are used to pick up or drop off officers at airports when public transport options have not been available.”

There have been 12 trips to China between January 2016 and the end of 2018. These trips were made by a variety of officers and councillors including leader Julie Dore, the then deputy leader Leigh Bramall, chief executive John Mothersole, Mr Highfield and other senior officers.

“On a number of occasions council officers have been accompanied by local businesses, funded by the businesses and central government, as well as Sheffield University’s director of international engagement, funded by the university directly,” the statement said.