Council criticised for 'jolly' to USA

A COUNCIL has been criticised after it emerged more than £18,000 of taxpayers' money was spent on a trip to mark the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, Virginia, in the USA.

Roddy Ashworth

A COUNCIL has been criticised after it emerged more than £18,000 of taxpayers' money was spent on a trip to mark the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, Virginia, in the USA.

But yesterday Essex County Council said the week-long visit - in which a delegation of nine members, headed by its leader, Lord Hanningfield, met with US dignitaries and industry chiefs - was intended to raise the profile of the county abroad and help foster relations to bring in important business for the area.

News of the trip's cost emerged after a request under the Freedom of Information Act uncovered a total spend of £62,000 on the visit, almost £40,000 more than had been initially budgeted.

However, much of this cost was due to unforeseen travel problems and the overspend was later recovered from insurance, bringing the event in on budget at £24,800.

Of this, about £6,500 was met by business sponsors.

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But Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: “This is an appalling waste of taxpayers' money.

“Faced with rising taxes and struggling services, this trip is the last thing councillors should have been doing - and the taxpayer should certainly not have to pick up the bill. It's time people in local government thought about what is really important to taxpayers.”

And anti-council tax campaigner Tony Constable, a committee member of Colchester Pensioners' Action Group, said: “I am against anything these people do that even looks like a jolly, and I can't see this trip as anything other than that.

“In my view there is too much of this sort of thing. This is just another pip in the pudding. It is something that doesn't go well.”

Yesterday Lord Hanningfield defended the cost of the trip and refuted the claim it was a “jolly”.

He added: “This was not a jolly. Despite what people might think, it was actually hard work. It was about promoting Essex and promoting tourism in Essex.

“Essex was the county from where most of those who established Virginia came from. We are hoping people will come from there to trace their roots.

“The whole thing was supported and promoted by the state of Virginia. Also, several business contacts have been made as a result of this and these have brought benefits to Essex.”

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