A HANDFUL of officials from two of Scotland’s most solidly Labour councils used nearly £5,000 of taxpayers’ cash to cover the cost of attending a local government achievement awards night at an exclusive hotel in London billed as “a magnificent gala” The Scotsman can reveal.
Glasgow and North Lanarkshire council officials spent public funds on flights, hotels and trains to allow them to attend the one night only black tie event at the London Hilton Park Lane hotel, where top comic Hugh Dennis - one half of Punt and Dennis - hosted the evening.
Glasgow council officials who attended included the city’s chief executive George Black and Fiona Borland - the authority’s City Registrar.
North Lanarkshire’s party at the awards night included elected Labour politician Peter Sullivan - the authority’s Vice Convener of Housing and Social work.
The taxpayer even had to pick up a £1,260 bill for the costs of a table at the event for North Lanarkshire - one of the most socially deprived council areas of Scotland.
However, Edinburgh which was also nominated for an award chose not to attend the event. All three councils failed to win an award at the ceremony, where they had been nominated for different best practice categories.
Organisers of the event - The Municipal journal achievement awards said on their web that guests were able to enjoy after “dinner networking and dancing to a great live band” as well as being treated to “anecdotes from our presenter” Hugh Dennis.
The spends by the two Labour authorities, who were both nominated for best council service awards, was criticised as “extravagant” with just nine officials sent to attend a “self congratulatory” event for just one night.
The expenditure was revealed under freedom of information laws and covered the three Scottish councils, Glasgow, North Lanarkshire and Edinburgh who attended the UK-wide awards.
North Lanarkshire racked up more than £1,150 on putting up five of its staff at a Holiday Inn Hotel in London as well as nearly £800 for return flight and rail tickets to the UK capital.
Glasgow council took more than £700 from the public purse to cover air flights between Glasgow and London’s Gatwick and Heathrow airports to ensure four of its officials were able to attend the awards. The council also spent nearly £100 on rail fares for staff attending the awards.
There was also a £450 bed and breakfast bill for the four Glasgow council employees, who stayed at the St Giles Hotel in Central London.
Holyrood’s economy committee convenor Murdo Fraser criticised the two councils for spending thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ cash to attend an awards evening in London.
He said: “At a time when public funds are under severe pressure, taxpayers in North Lanarkshire and Glasgow will be dismayed at his extravagant use of public resources to take staff to an event like this that’s a self congratulatory event for councils, when there are surely other more pressing demands on their resources”.
Both Glasgow and North Lanarkshire refused to identify all nine guests who attended the awards and would only state the names of the most senior officials.
Paul Jukes, Executive Director of Regeneration for North Lanarkshire council also attended the event and billed taxpayers for return rail tickets to London.
However, the remainder of his costs were paid for by the taxpayer-funded Association of Public Service Excellence (APSE) Board.
A spokesman for North Lanarkshire Council claimed it had been “vital” for the authority to send officials to the awards night to “share knowledge” with those from other parts of the UK.
The spokesman said: “We were very proud our Local Homes repairs team was shortlisted for the Best Council Service Team at the prestigious MJ Awards.
“Our repairs team have also recently been praised by Audit Scotland for providing one of the best repairs service in Scotland.
“These awards recognise best practice throughout the whole of the UK and we felt it was vital to have a small group our senior officers at the event to share knowledge with other top officials from local authorities throughout Britain.
“All fares were taken at the cheapest rates available at the time of booking and we strive to keep costs of any such trips to a minimum.”
A Glasgow city council spokesman said: “It is important that staff are recognised for their good work and the Municipal Journal Awards are among the most prestigious within local government.
“Expenditure was kept to a minimum during this trip.”