Scrutiny research by Stevenage Borough Council (SBC) Liberal Democrat group leader, councillor Robin Parker, has revealed that the Labour dominated council spent about £16,000 of local council taxpayers’ money in May on 4 nights and 2 days entertainment for some Labour and Conservative local councillors, SBC officials and 17 guests from the French and German twin towns of Autun and Ingelheim (7 from Autun and 10 from Ingelheim) – but there was only one business meeting in the weekend concerned.
Robin Parker said:
At a time when the new government is trying to get to grips with Labour’s debt of about £160 billion per year, and is asking local councils to make savings to help in that task, I think it was wholly inappropriate for the Labour dominated council to spend so much from Stevenage council taxpayers on civic entertainment. In the debt circumstances that we find ourselves, as a result of Labour’s over borrowing, this year it would have been wrong for us to attend these events and so the 3 strong Liberal Democrat group refused to do so.
The twinning links are a valuable social and educational focus for the town, and we strongly support them. But most of the links are by local individuals and families, who raise their own funds and volunteer their own time and services for the purpose, including hosting families. In contrast, it is not necessary for the civic link (that is, councillors and officials) to be so expensive for taxpayers.
Perhaps SBC needs to look again at the possibility of helping the town twinning organisations access European funds to assist with these valuable visits.
Compared with the expenditure on this, the other two twin town twinning organisations (Kadoma and Shimkent) are very much poor relations.
The entertainment provided was:
Thursday 20.5.2010: Dinner at the Ramada Cromwell Hotel, for 8 Labour and Conservative councillors, some SBC officials and the 17 guests.
Friday 21.5.2010: Dinner at Moggerhanger Park, for 10 Labour and Conservative councillors, some SBC officials and the 17 guests. (The day was spent in business meetings.)
Saturday 22.5.2010: Trip to Hertford then Gala Night at Stevenage Arts and Leisure Centre, for 9 Labour and Conservative councillors, some SBC officials, the 17 guests and some hosts (total about 140 people).
Sunday 23.5.2010: Trip to Hatfield House then Cockney Evening and Hog Roast, Ramada Cromwell Hotel, for 8 Labour and Conservative councillors, some SBC officials, the 17 guests and some hosts (total about 140 people).
- The Arts and Leisure Centre car park was closed from 12 noon on the Saturday, to allow for free parking for Gala Night guests, even though officials had no precise numbers for the spaces needed, and the guests were unlikely to fill the car park, thus contributing to car park income loss to the council and inconvenience for some motorists.
- In a bungle, invitations for the evening events did not go out until an hour before the start of the second such event, on the Friday!
Although Stevenage acts as host only one year in three, there are costs in the other two years with sending between 8 and 10 councillors and officials to Autun or Ingelheim.
It is true that there have been savings on these civic visits compared with a few years ago, but this whole area of spending is still in need of some real scrutiny and pruning. We should still support the townspeople who maintain the important link between the communities, which is different from the civic link.