Councils land taxpayers with £440 million credit card bill

Our new Bumper Book of Government Waste, released last week, showed some of the ways our politicians and officials waste some £120 billion taxpayers’ money a year. This equates to £4,500 for every household in the UK.

In addition to the main figure, we listed hundreds of examples of smaller - but painful - examples of waste. a recent edition of Channel 4’s Dispatches revealed further extraordinary ways that councils in particular waste our money.

The programme showed that in the last five years, £440 million of taxpayers’ money has been splashed on council credit cards. Not all of this has been squandered, but huge sums have been spent on luxuries that many residents can’t afford for themselves.

Some of the most scandalous examples of waste include dining at Michelin starred restaurants, golf lessons, trips to exotic destinations and even pedicures.

£3.7 million was spent on foreign travel, with jet-setting Birmingham City Council visiting almost a quarter of the countries in the world at a cost equivalent to 285 families’ annual Council Tax bill. Oldham sent employees to Hong Kong and China which they said were “useful for nurturing investment opportunities.”

Further examples of extravagance include a £30 million bill for chauffeur-driven cars. Some councils have been running fleets of Jaguars, Bentleys and Rolls-Royces. Despite the public’s eyes being opened to the situation, the penny is yet to drop for some councils.

Sunderland City Council spent £1,142.89 at the five-star Cape Royal hotel and spa in Cape Town during the Commonwealth Local Government Forum, with a further bill of £6,167 run up on another trip to South Africa. The council said that their spending was “appropriate”. Residents may think otherwise.

Use of the Freedom of Information Act by journalists and groups like the TaxPayers’ Alliance has been an effective tool in tackling profligacy, but spending needs to be fully transparent to expose waste. This is especially important at present with councils citing cuts to central government funding as justification for increasing council tax. Before they even consider this, they should focus on cutting waste to deliver value.

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