Council staff Center Parcs day criticised

A CASH-STRAPPED council has come under fire after splashing out nearly �1,000 on a staff bonding session at a popular Suffolk holiday park.

Members of Forest Heath’s planning team left their desks for a day to take time out to get to know each other at Center Parcs in Elveden, at a cost of �795, it has emerged.

The exercise was funded by money for improving its frontline services and the spending has being branded “a disgraceful waste” by the Taxpayers’ Alliance.

The council told the EADT the meeting, which included food but not use of Centre Parcs’ other popular facilities, was “the cheapest option in the district”.

It comes after finance officers at Forest Heath warned of a budget shortfall of �2.8 million over the next five years.

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Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “The decision by Forest Heath District Council to spend hundreds of pounds on an ‘away day’ is a disgraceful waste of public money.

“The authority has offices in Mildenhall, Newmarket and Brandon –any one of these could have hosted this meeting at a lesser cost to the taxpayer.

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“In the face of a huge budget shortfall Forest Heath should be looking very carefully at how they can make savings wherever possible, not wasting the money that they do have.”

The information came to light following a freedom of information request lodged by a Sunday newspaper.

Ian Radford, a Liberal Democrat opposition member of the council, said: “I am surprised that they spent that sort of money on it.”

But Sally Rod�, a spokeswoman for Forest Heath, defended the spending, at an unspecified date in 2007, saying: “The venue was chosen because it was the most economical option in the district.

“The day was held to introduce new planning staff and a new head of service to each and to work on service priorities, service plans and issues that arose from changes in the planning team.

“The money was from our planning delivery grant - a grant the Government gives for service improvement. We believe this was a valid use of some of the delivery grant as we had a number of new staff and a day away from the office was a useful way of ensuring their integration into the team.”

She added they had received no complaints from residents who were told in advance the planning team would be away on that particular day.

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