Row over council officials' Spanish trip

A ROW has erupted after it emerged 11 council officials are being sent on a fact-finding trip to Barcelona to look at a waste disposal plant at the taxpayers' expense.

By Juliette Maxam

A ROW has erupted after it emerged 11 council officials are being sent on a fact-finding trip to Barcelona to look at a waste disposal plant at the taxpayers' expense.

Essex County Council's Conservative cabinet member for recycling and waste Kay Twitchen is taking the party to Barcelona next week to visit an anaerobic digester plant which is being considered as an alternative to incinerators in the county.

Accompanying her will be council leader Lord Hanningfield, Mrs Twitchen's deputy, Norman Hume, the cabinet member with responsible for the environment, Tracey Chapman; and four county council officers, an Environment Agency representative, a translator and Terry Sutton, from the Essex Waste Project Management Board.

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But last night Mrs Twitchen denied it was a "junket" and stressed the importance of the visit.

The group is flying out from Luton Airport on £70 Easyjet flights, spending one night at the four-star Expo hotel and returning the following day after spending a day at the waste plant.

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Yesterday Essex County Council Labour spokesman on waste Phil Barlow criticised the trip. He said it should have either been cross-party or officer-only.

"They (the administration) are always moaning about the poor (government) settlement but they must be spending thousands of pounds on what looks like a jolly to Barcelona."

He added: "I'm convinced they don't need to send that many people, particularly as they have been so pointed in their criticism of the settlement. They've put up the council tax, they're threatening redundancies and cuts because they haven't got enough money but can still find the money for this."

"I think it's entirely appropriate that we go and look at these sorts of plants where they're in situ to learn about them, but not with such a large group."

Mrs Twitchen said: "I know how people are about spending public money but in the next year to 18 months we are going to be committing an enormous amount of Essex money to this project.

"This one in Barcelona is very similar to what we need in Essex, taking mixed municipal and industrial waste. It's very important people making decisions understand what it looks like, what it smells like, what it feels like, to make sure they spend their money wisely."

She added: "I can understand people being concerned. But next Tuesday we have a two-and-a-half hour meeting at county hall to go through the technical and financial side. Then we go to Luton Airport. We stay overnight. The next morning we go to the industrial site where the plant is located then fly home that evening. It's not exactly a junket."

Mrs Twitchen said there is an anaerobic digester plant at the Isle of Wight, but it is old and is not the right sort, although she is hoping to visit it herself later in the year.

An anaerobic digester uses micro-organisms to break down rubbish. Manufacturers claim it is a clean, environmentally-friendly way of dealing with waste. It produces biogas which can be used as a fuel.

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