Sheffield Council spent £30,000 on China trips related to failed hotel project

Central Library.
Central Library.
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Sheffield Council spent more than £30, 000 on overseas trips to China connected to an investment deal with a construction firm whose plans to turn the city’s central library into a five-star hotel have collapsed.

Figures revealed under Freedom of Information laws show how that in the 18 months between January 2016 and July 2017 council officials, including leader Julie Dore on one occasion, made multiple trips to China as they pursued a deal with Sichuan Guodong Group, as well as other investment opportunities.

Over £14, 800 was spent on hotels and more than £16, 000 on 
air fares, according to figures provided through the What Do They Know? website.

It is understood not all the spending related to activities solely connected with the Guodong Group deal. But that spending comes after the council revealed earlier this month “in the region of £60, 000” has been spent on administrative work relating to the partnership.

That figure which is understood to include the cost of the overseas trips that related to the deal. The deal, announced in July 2016, was expected to lead to 60 years of investment in Sheffield and was heralded as “the biggest Chinese investment deal to be made by a UK city outside London.”

Sheffield Council said the first tranche of funding was worth £220m and would fund “four or five Sheffield city centre projects over the next three years.”

Later that year, the first project put forward turning the city’s central library into a five-star hotel. But Sheffield Council revealed last month that Guodong had “paused” other projects while assessing the hotel idea and a report has now revealed that hotel is “highly unlikely” to go ahead.

The report says Guodong’s “appetite to invest in Sheffield remains”. But Liberal Democrat peer and former Sheffield Council leader Paul Scriven said the future of the deal appeared in serious doubt.

He said: “One has to question the amount of money that has been spent with absolutely nothing in return.”

A Sheffield Council spokesman said: “The council visits to China were a vital part of securing investment and raising profile for Sheffield. We use relatively small amounts of public money to try and secure investment into our city which, if successful, pays for itself many times over.

"We do everything we can to make sure any cost to Sheffield taxpayers is as low as possible.

“We continue to be in dialogue with Sichuan Guodong Group and many other interested developers on a number of projects across the city.”