Council boss defends £33k Olympic 'jolly

THE leader of Essex County Council has been accused of going on a £33,000 “jolly” to the Olympic Games at the expense of taxpayers.

James Hore

THE leader of Essex County Council has been accused of going on a £33,000 “jolly” to the Olympic Games at the expense of taxpayers.

Lord Hanningfield is among a team of six from the authority heading to China in a bid to build links in the run-up to London 2012.

He is also meeting with representatives of Hutchison Ports in an attempt to secure a multi-million pound deal to provide much-needed investment for the A120 trunk road which runs to Harwich.

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But last night the trip was branded a waste of taxpayers' money at a time when more and more families are struggling to make ends meet.

Lord Hanningfield will be joined by the council's deputy leader, Stephen Castle, who has responsibilities for the Olympics on the council and four specialist officers.

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The week-long trip will cost £32,856, covering the price of flights and accommodation for the delegation and will come from the economic regeneration budget.

The team will be lobbying for business and encouraging Olympic teams to use Essex for their training base for the 2012 Games in London.

A spokesman for the council said the party would also be promoting the county's business credentials as well as encouraging tourism links.

But Corin Taylor, of the Taxpayers' Alliance, said families struggling to pay the bills would find the trip hard to swallow.

He said: “When Lord Hanningfield talks of boosting Essex's business, it makes you wonder how the county ever got by before?

“I am sure the county's businesses were doing just fine before these trips began.

“I think taxpayers will be sick and tired of their council leader going overseas on what many may feel is a jolly, particularly in these difficult economic times when families are struggling to make ends meet.

“It is wrong that they are being forced to pay for these trips.”

Lord Hanningfield said: “With the Games in Beijing, it is great opportunity to build on these links and to promote Essex in the run up to London 2012.

“Essex has the potential to benefit hugely from 2012, we estimate that it will leave a legacy worth £150million so it is important that we start laying the foundations now to make sure our whole county is able to benefit through improved investment, jobs, and sporting facilities.

“As a county we have a long and successful relationship with China, in particular the Jiangsu province, with many schools in our county teaching mandarin and this year's Essex-Jiangsu cultural festival.

“While I am out in China I will also be meeting with Hutchison Ports, and will be discussing with them regeneration opportunities along with major investment and improvements in our road network.”

Mr Castle, cabinet member for economic development, regeneration and 2012 Games added: “The 2012 Olympics will bring fantastic opportunities for Essex, and it is important for us to make sure we do all we can to learn from the Beijing Olympics.

“Now Hadleigh has been chosen to host the mountain biking event one of the key jobs whilst we are out there is to see what lessons we can learn from this unique opportunity in order for the south of the county to benefit from the legacy.

“We will also be ensuring that Essex is recognised as a potential base for pre-Games training camps in the run up to 2012. The economic benefits of having such events in Essex will be increased investment and new jobs.”

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