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Fact-finding gravy train costs council £35,000

PUBLISHED: 16:40 22 July 2009 | UPDATED: 16:58 25 August 2010

TRIP: Councillor Harry Singh

TRIP: Councillor Harry Singh

COUNCIL bosses spent more than £35,000 last year on trips abroad for extravagant fact-finding trips which pressure groups claim can be done online. Greenwich council spent a staggering £35,383.57 on foreign travel - the majority of which was shelled ou

TRIP: Sajid Jawaid visited Slovenia at a cost of £576

COUNCIL bosses spent more than £35,000 last year on trips abroad for "extravagant" fact-finding trips which pressure groups claim can be done online.

Greenwich council spent a staggering £35,383.57 on foreign travel - the majority of which was shelled out on two trips to Beijing in the space of three months, according to a Freedom of Information request by the Times.

Taxpayers also shelled out for the head of neighbourhood services, Jim Wintour, to go on a three-day trip to Hong Kong in August last year, where he acted as an observer for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG).

This cost the council £960 despite LOCOG picking up the tab for accommodation at the Hong Kong Shangri-la hotel.

Councillor Harry Singh joined Mayor Sajid Jawaid and senior assistant director of culture and community Sam Eastop on a week-long trip to Slovenia in April last year to visit Greenwich's twinned town of Maribor to see London children perform in a Lent festival.

The hotel was paid for by the Slovenian authorities, but Greenwich residents forked out £576 for the trio's economy flights.

Meanwhile mayor Jawaid also enjoyed a weekend trip to Lahore in Pakistan last May to visit the Local Councils Association of the Punjab "regarding further understanding of local government practices from UK".

This was at a cost of £680 to residents, but the association picked up the hotel bill.

Residents also paid £100 for an officer in the regeneration department to go on a day-trip to Brussels for a European Commission conference.

Chief executive at the TaxPayers' Alliance, Matthew Elliott, said: "With so many councils complaining about decreased revenue and increased demand for public services in the recession, these trips are extravagant, inappropriate and, in many cases, wholly unnecessary.

"Wherever possible fact-finding should be done electronically, for free."

Head of design Robert Powell went on a five-day trip to Beijing last May with head of communications Katrina Delaney and head of culture and community Frances Dolan. Flights and hotels for the trio cost £7,980.

And in August Ms Dolan and Ms Delaney joined three other colleagues on another trip to Beijing for the Olympic Games. This was at a cost of £25,087.57.

A spokesperson for Greenwich council declined to comment on the spending and Bexley council refused to disclose a list of officers' trips for last year but said no foreign travel in that time exceeded £200.

The Times is in the process of appealing against their decision not to disclose the information under the Freedom of Information Act.

At the time of going to press a spokesperson for Bexley council was unavailable to comment due to a power cut in their offices.

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