Sunderland Council slashes cost of business flights

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A CASH-STRAPPED council has recorded a dramatic drop in the amount it spends on business flights.

A Freedom of Information Act request revealed that Sunderland City Council spent just £1,613 on domestic work-related fights in the last financial year – a reduction of more than £9,000 over three years.

In 2009 to 2010, the travelling expenditure was £10,753, dropping to £4,238 in 2010 to 2011, before reaching the latest figure.

However, despite welcoming the drop, Sunderland Conservative leader Robert Oliver said the figures raised serious concerns about the council’s previous level of spending.

“The story here is that in the past the council has been spending too much on domestic flights,” he said.

“Some of the flights have been very costly indeed. Sometimes these have been in exceptional circumstances, but, overall, spending more than £10,000 in a single year is excessive.

“It is good to see that the figure has now been reduced to a much more reasonable level, but the previous level of spending is very concerning, especially in a time of severe economic downturn.”

The trips, all understood to be standard and economy class, were from Newcastle to destinations including London, Cardiff and Bristol.

Prices ranged from £38 for a one-way flight to an electoral administration conference in Belfast to £612 for a one-way flight to an adoption review in Southampton.

Most journeys were booked on budget airlines such as Easyjet and Flybe. Conferences, training and statutory visits were among the main reasons for the trips.

Councillor Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “All council expenditure is continuously monitored and domestic air travel reflects the diversity of our work from attracting investment or service improvement, to safeguarding vulnerable residents..”

Earlier this year, it emerged the cash-strapped local authority was offering its staff up to a year’s pay to quit. In a leaked document seen by the Echo, bosses revealed they needed to save an extra £100million over the next three years – £5million short of this year’s target.

A total of 6,800 staff were given the opportunity to apply for a “one-off time-limited opportunity”.

The document said they could leave the council “in a compromise deal”. Employees had to apply by August 31, and if successful, were expected to leave before the end of last month.

The severance pay was tax free up to £30,000.

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