Join a local council, see the world... and let the taxpayers pick up the bill

If you want to see the world, get a job with Orkney Islands council. That seems to be the message from a comprehensive survey of how much council taxpayers' money local authorities spend on foreign travel.

When the figures for air fares, hotels and other costs of all the councils surveyed are added together, they come to more than £3m a year.

Many of the councils, particularly the smaller ones, spent nothing at all, while some of the bigger ones spent thousands sending councillors or staff abroad for a variety of reasons.

Orkney was an exception to the general rule. This is one of the smallest councils in the country, covering a population not much greater than 20,000, yet in one year it ran up bills for air travel of £318,898.88 – or almost £16 per head of population.

The single most expensive council-funded trip involved sending the Orkney College archaeologist to take part in a geophysics research project on Easter Island, in the middle of the Pacific, at a cost of £1,794.65.

Other big spenders turned up in the survey by More4 News include Glasgow City Council, which spent just under £241,000 on air fares and over £155,000 on accommodation abroad, including £4,239.06 on sending a council employee to accompany the Lord Provost on a trip to the USA to celebrate Tartan Week in Chicago and Toronto.

Edinburgh City Council also spent over £14,000 sending four officials from its department of corporate affairs to New York for Tartan Week.

Sunderland council, on Wearside, spent nearly £98,000 on air travel and accommodation abroad, including over £19,000 on a trip by the then council leader, Bob Symmonds, and three senior staff to the cities of Harbin and Nanjing, in China. The visit paved the way for a friendship agreement with Harbin, and a similar agreement with Nanjing's ministry of science and technology.

"Harbin is a city which has so much to offer Sunderland and we believe we can enjoy a good commercial relationship which will help provide mutual prosperity," Sunderland's chief executive Dave Smith said.

"It's important when you are building and fostering a relationship with a city so far away that you can make the time and find the resources."

Larne Borough Council, in Co Antrim, spent nearly £7,980 sending three councillors and two staff to a "sister cities" conference in Kansas. The council also spent £3,990 sending a delegation to Florida, and £2,655 on a pilgrimage to Somme. Larne was the port from which thousands of Irish emigrants set sail for the US, and is twinned with two towns in South Carolina.

Nottinghamshire County Council spent less than £15,000 on air fares, but more than £45,000 on hotel stays abroad. The main expense was a trip to Brussels to lobby MEPs and EU officials to try to get European funding for anti-crime initiative. The delegation stayed in the £223 a night Jolly Hotel du Grand in Brussels.

The report can be seen on More4 News tonight at 8pm.

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