Taxpayers stump up £42k for these Leeds Council foreign trips in just one year

Leeds City Council spent more than £42k on international trips in 2018/19, including flights as far as Hong Kong and Japan.

By Abbey Maclure
Wednesday, 17th July 2019, 10:15 am
Leeds councillors and council officers have jetted off all over the world. (Credit: SWNS)
Leeds councillors and council officers have jetted off all over the world. (Credit: SWNS)

New data released by the council has revealed that councillors and council officers made 82 international trips from April 2018 to March 2019.

On some occasions travel costs were met by other organisations, but foreign travel cost the taxpayer £42,755.78 during that period.

The expenses covered travel costs, accommodation, local transport and food and drink.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The council's foreign travel included a visit to Cannes costing the taxpayer nearly 10k. (Photo: Google)

A Leeds Council spokesperson has defended the international trips, which include visits to Cannes, the US and Hong Kong.

The council claims that foreign travel is essential to grow Leeds' business and finance sectors and increase investment into the city.

The most expensive taxpayer-funded trip was made by council leader Judith Blake and five council officers in March 2019.

The short trip to Cannes to attend the MIPIM property conference cost the taxpayer £9,696.82 and Coun Judith Blake's hotel costs were £473.33 a night for the three-night stay.

Leeds Council said that attending the event was essential for investment into Leeds, but did not comment on why hotel costs were so high.

A council spokesperson said: "MIPIM is the largest property exhibition and conference in the world with over 35,000 people attending.

"A variety of representatives from groups and organisations across the world will attend MIPIM, which includes council leaders from many cities in the country."

Coun Judith Blake also visited Paris, Lille, Romania and China between April 2018 and March 2019.

The visit to China was made with three council officers in September 2018 and cost the taxpayer £7,705.45 as part of a 'trade and investment mission'.

Leeds Council said the trip was part of a 30-year partnership with Hangzhou, a city in China known for its digital, tech, e-commerce and creative industries.

Key trips funded by other organisations

Other organisations contributed £64,713.40 to fund Leeds Council's international travel from April 2018 to March 2019.

The US Embassy in London paid £21,993.08 for deputy council leader Debra Coupar and three council officers to visit Washington DC, Portland and Seattle as part of a counter-terrorism programme.

In June 2018, a programme project co-coordinator, whose name was withheld, visited Tokyo to 'research Japanese artists, collections and exhibition opportunities' for a total nine nights.

The £2,546.61 trip was funded by a grant to a council art fund.

The council's film manger, whose name was also withheld, flew to Cannes and the Czech Republic to 'research films for Leeds International Film Festival'.

Expenses were paid through the council's corporate sponsorship income and Film Hub North.

How the council responded

A Leeds Council spokesperson said: "Leeds City Council has an important role to play in representing the people of Leeds and championing the city to a variety of audiences from both a civic and economic perspective.

“As well as maintaining long established civic links in Europe and China, our international activities provide us with the opportunity to participate in learning and best practice initiatives that contribute to the further improvement of vital services that we provide locally.

"We work with partners to promote Leeds as a great place to visit, study, work and do business, and also advocate for Leeds-based businesses and institutions abroad.

"In recent years this type of work has contributed significantly to the expansion and growth seen in the Leeds economy and played an important part in attracting high-profile, global organisations such as Channel 4, Burberry, Sky, Dahua and Reed Smith.

“Any travel which does need to be taken by members and officers is always considered extremely carefully by a strict process and to ensure they offer real benefits to the city and value for money in terms of potential return.

"Every attempt is always taken to keep any costs to an absolute minimum. Neither councillors nor officers will ever travel first class.”