Sunderland Council leader defends £62,000-plus bill for foreign trips

Sunderland City Council leader Coun Paul Watson

Sunderland City Council leader Coun Paul Watson

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COUNCIL chiefs have defended their £62,000 spend on foreign travel.

Sunderland City Council spent £61,981 in the last financial year on travel and accommodation for council delegates on oversees trips.

The authority says such trips help bring thousands of jobs and millions of pounds of investment.

Council leader Paul Watson pointed to massive benefits brought to Wearside from overseas companies and said it was vital for Sunderland to build international relationships.

He said: “More than 60 major businesses are from countries outside the UK and together they employ more than 17,500 people.

“In the last six years, we have attracted approximately 7,500 new jobs and investment totalling more than £1.5billion from overseas.”

He added: “Only three months ago in September, U.S. multinational Lear Corporation announced that it was creating 300 new jobs at a new multimillion pound manufacturing facility at Rainton Bridge Industrial Estate.

“This was from negotiations that the city council started and completed with the company. This and other international investments would be less likely without some foreign travel.”

Coun Watson said Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron had himself stressed the need to attract inward investment, which Sunderland had done for years.

He said “We all operate in a global economy and therefore it is essential for a city such as ours to engage internationally, which inevitably requires some foreign travel.

“Sunderland has been very successful in attracting inward investment over the years and it has helped regenerate the city’s economy.”

Sunderland is twinned with Essen in Germany and Saint-Nazaire in France and also has Friendship Agreements with Washington DC and Harbin, in China.

Sunderland is also a member of the World Health Organisation European Healthy Centres Network and the Eurocities group.

Coun Watson said: “The Friendship Agreement is generating economic benefits as several Sunderland companies have set up offices in the U.S.

“As part of this ongoing and successful approach we are also developing strong relationships with the cities of Harbin and Nanjing in China, and taking forward our International Strategy.

“It is essential that we do as much as we can to secure inward investment, help our home-grown businesses compete and prosper in an increasingly competitive international market.”

Sunderland Conservatives leader Robert Oliver agreed with Coun Watson’s points, but is concerned that not all trips are worth the cash.

He said: “Foreign travel, paid for by the council, is beneficial to the people of Sunderland if it brings in economic investment, but many taxpayers will be less keen on funding EU jaunts and World Health Organisation junkets.

“As many of these foreign links have already been established, follow-up visits should be cut to a minimum, so that spend on foreign travel is reduced to only essential economic visits which offer a clear return for the taxpayer.”

Conservative activist Dominic McDonough, who uncovered the figures, said: “Once again we see the council wasting our hard-earned money. For the price of this travel we should be expecting results, jobs and investment. We have seen none of that.

“These figures simply highlight the continued waste that this Labour-controlled Council insists on while cutting services.”

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