As a general rule, taxpayers would generally be pleased if their local Council was given a national award for excellence.
Indeed, it would take a quite remarkable turn of events to change a good news story into a fiasco, but that's exactly what Stoke on Trent Council have achieved.
The Stoke Sentinel revealed over the weekend that the Council had coughed up £2,400 for an all-expenses paid trip to London to pick up two awards. Our comment was picked up by the paper, with Jonathan Isaby, our Chief Executive, saying:
Taxpayers will be furious that the Council has turned picking up an award into an all-expenses paid jolly. Serious questions will be asked about why so many staff needed to attend, whether it was possible to get the 11pm train from London back to Stoke, or why they needed to stay in such an expensive hotel. It betrays an attitude in which taxpayers' money isn't treated with the value it deserves, and that must change.
Taxpayers picked up the bill not just for train travel down to London for eight officials, but then saw the bill increase as the phalanx of Council staff stayed in £179 a night hotels in Marble Arch after the ceremony. It took me all of four minutes to find this hotel, just up the road in Paddington, for less than £70 a night. It's no Radisson Blu, which is where the Council officials stayed, but it's safe, it's secure, and the vast majority of people in the UK would be more than happy with it - especially just for a night. Does it not occur to the people booking these hotel rooms that it's not their money they're spending?
The Council, needless to say, has responded by saying that the trip was worth it - using all sorts of nebulous concepts such as "raising the profile of Stoke" as justification. It's not far off how the Council justified spending nearly half a million on a flower garden at RHS Chelsea.
So there you are, Stoke: we've just found a way you could have saved £800. Council Tax for Band A homeowners in Stoke on Trent comes to £953.35.
Maybe the Councillors and officials should explain to a resident of a property worth less than £40,000 - the very poorest in society - why almost all of their Council Tax was used to upgrade from a 3-star to a 4-star hotel in London. My instinct is they would struggle to.
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