COUNCIL chiefs have defended plans to spend £4,500 flying a councillor to South Africa for a one-hour speaking engagement.
The conference, which lasts for two days, will discuss the long-term economic development of the region.
The council says its involvement will help further boost Sunderland’s international profile, as well as share the secret of its success at attracting investment and jobs.
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The ruling cabinet is today requested to authorise the trip, which has been criticised by Sunderland Conservatives leader Robert Oliver.
He said: “I think foreign trips can be very important for the city if they are building links with cities that would benefit us.
“But in this case many businesses here are not likely to invest in that part of South Africa.
“The conference lasts for two days but the council is only speaking for one hour. It could easily be done by email or by having a video conference call.
“So to go to South Africa for one hour is not worth it at all.
“I don’t think it benefits Sunderland enough considering it will cost a lot of money to fly out there.
“Foreign trips should always be focused on economic investment in the city, like links with other countries where they are investing into Sunderland.”
The council has confirmed that the trip should not cost any more than £4,500.
Council leader Coun Paul Watson said: “The city council has been participating in a Commonwealth Local Government Forum Good Practice Scheme project.
“Sunderland is sharing its success in attracting inward investment as in the last six years alone the city has attracted approximately 7,500 new jobs and investment totalling more than £1.5billion from overseas.
“Even with the continuing economic downturn, Sunderland continues to be open for business, open to business. At a time when some might have pulled up the drawbridge, and with the demise of One North East, the city council continues to promote the city abroad.
“This is in line with recent comments by the Prime Minister about the UK selling itself internationally.
“South Africa is now highlighted as one of the leading emerging economies.
“Therefore it makes sense to work with them and look to opportunities in the future.”