CASH-STRAPPED councils spent at least £2 million on air fares in just three years to fly staff around the world at taxpayers’ expense, it emerged yesterday.
Despite axing vital services because of budgets, Scotland’s local authorities paid out for more than 8,000 domestic and international flights on “official business”.
Senior figures – including provosts, councillors and high-ranking executives – were the biggest globetrotters with visits to far flung destinations such as South Africa, Brazil, Australia and the United States.
However, even lower ranking staff have been among the jet-set since 2010, with travel to awards ceremonies, obscure conferences and even a Loo of the Year Awards covered by council coffers.
There is particular concern over the nature of the overseas trips paid from the public purse, including “fact finding” missions to Lafayette and Mexico, a visit to Germany “to the retirement celebrations for a mayor” and a trip to Colombia to attend “a conference about street lights”, documents show.
The revelations, which have emerged under Freedom of Information, yesterday sparked fury amid claims councils are “using aircraft like buses”.
Eleanor McGrath, campaign manager at TaxpayerScotland, said it was “disgraceful” and insisted there was “no obvious benefit to local residents”.
She said: “At a time when these local authorities are having to cut spending it’s ridiculous that some feel they can afford to travel the world. With modern technology such as video conferencing widely available, large sums of taxpayers’ money does not need to be spent on plane tickets.”
Shetland Council recorded the biggest bill, totalling £899,200 for 3,471 flights, the majority of them domestic trips for what officials described as day-to-day business. Aberdeen City Council came in second place, shelling out £299,000 for 1,058 airfares.