Lurene Joseph is the chief executive of Leeds and Partners, a Leeds City Council funded investment initiative. Despite the Council having to reduce its expenditure by ten of millions of pounds, Ms Joseph still manages to enjoy £285 taxi journeys and overseas trips with stays in five-star hotels, letting struggling taxpayers pick up the bill.
In September and October last year, Ms Joseph and one other official managed to rack up a charge of more than £8,000 on a nine-night trip, which included a three-day conference in Boston. The accommodation costs were £6,203 alone. Leeds and Partners claim that the remaining six days abroad were spent on investor meetings. Ms Joseph also spent over £400 on taxi journeys on the days before and after her holiday, with a single journey from Leeds to her home in Buckinghamshire costing a staggering £285.
This is not an isolated incident: two further Boston trips took place in February and April this year, with two delegates spending £5,000 on the first and four spending £11,500 on the second. Leeds and Partners also spent over £12,000 sending nine delegates, including Ms Joseph, to a four-day commercial property conference on the French Riviera. Ms Joseph declined, however, to stay in the cheaper accommodation afforded to other delegates – including the chief executive of Leeds City Council Tom Riordan – preferring a five-star Cannes hotel.
You would think Leeds City Council would be mounting an investigation into this egregious spending. Not a bit of it. Instead, in a statement to theYorkshire Post, the council said it 'does not question the rationale for individual financial transactions as highlighted by the Yorkshire Post but we are confident that the board and executive of Leeds and Partners are committed to demonstrating financial probity and delivering value for money.' If the council does not question the spending of Leeds and Partners, how can it ensure our money is being spent wisely?
The Council also states that Leeds and Partners is not required to show a breakdown of expenses, being a private company with ownership shared between the Council and Leeds Chamber of Commerce – despite the organisation receiving £2 million of taxpayers’ money every year.
Ms Joseph herself receives a salary of £160,000 and is entitled to a seven per cent performance-related bonus, whilst managing a staff of around 25. Compare this to the £176,000 earned by council chief executive Mr Riordan, with responsibility for a staff of around 15,000. Both the council and Leeds and Partners have refused to comment on any specific spending, or release details of all expenses claimed by Ms Joseph.
This worrying habit of hiding excessive spending behind ‘private’ firms and arm’s length management organisations (ALMOs) is, unfortunately, not exactly new to Leeds. If this is their idea of fiscal transparency, the council still has a long way to go.