Police chiefs order spending cut after £700,000 splurge
POLICE chiefs have ordered a crackdown on the force's spending on flights and hotels for officers after it emerged that £700,000 was spent over two years.
Temporary Deputy Chief Constable Mike McCormick set up a review of the travel costs after the expenses bill was revealed by the Evening News last month.
The review concluded there was a need for "more exacting scrutiny" over flights and accommodation "given the constricting financial climate".
Police staff are now to be told travel to destinations, which have included Amsterdam, Los Angeles and Brazil, should "only be contemplated after a rigorous evaluation of the operational and organisational benefit". The force has also pledged to expand its use of video-conferencing in a bid to reduce the need for travel.
But the review's scrutiny of the two-year bill found that there was "no impropriety" and that all travel expenses had "followed the appropriate procedure".
The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show that between January 2008 and September 2009, the force paid 471,695 for flights. Over 2008, the cost for flights was 281,361, with more than 36,500 spent on flights in one month alone.
Flight details were not provided as police said it could alert criminals to ongoing investigations. But the information did list the cities and airports visited, revealing that officers travelled to global destinations including Venice, Chicago, Bucharest, Copenhagen, Washington DC, Geneva, Bangkok, Brussels, Dublin, Cardiff, Montreal, Seattle and Zurich.
The review outlined a number of reasons why trips had to be undertaken and how each had to be justified before it went ahead.
Councillor Iain Whyte, convener of the police board, had told the Evening News that he wanted the costs to be looked at by the board's audit committee and the report was prepared for them.
Cllr Whyte said: "In these financial times, and when we are being encouraged not to travel unnecessarily, we should look at video conferencing and other ways to reduce costs."
Audit committee member Councillor Charles Dundas said: "Looking closely at expenditure is something I would expect from any public sector body and the police are no different in this. I'm pleased that the force has a clean bill of health with regards to any impropriety, but like any public body in this economic climate, they will need to look for cutbacks on spending."
A police spokesman said: "We have provided the audit committee with a full breakdown of the force's travel and accommodation expenses, setting out that around 50 per cent of expenditure relates to core duties such as extradition and operational policing – investigations and inquiries.
"The remaining costs relate to a mixture of training and meetings. Training, which is the larger share of this, is to enable officers and staff to improve theirs skills, knowledge and development to enhance service delivery. Attendance at meetings allows our staff to influence and hear about national developments and ultimately to discharge our responsibilities."
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