SUNDERLAND International Airshow organisers have defended a hospitality bill for city councillors and guests after it almost doubled on the previous year.
At a cost of £8,596, the marquee, which was open exclusively to councillors and their guests during the three-day-event last July, provided a free Friday evening buffet, while a complimentary reception drink, carvery and afternoon tea was held on the Sunday.
In 2013, the cost was £4,660, only slightly up on the 2012 sum of £4,114.
Details of the expenditure were first posted on the WhatDoTheyKnow website after a member of the public submitted a Freedom of Information request.
The airshow, which attracted 950,000 visitors, is organised on behalf of Sunderland City Council events company, Sunderland Live, and is funded out of council coffers.
Airshow director Sue Stanhope justified the spend, saying it is far outweighed by the £12.2million of income last year’s event brought to the city.
“The Sunderland International Airshow continues to be the biggest free event in the region, entertaining hundreds of thousands of visitors and generating millions of pounds of income for the city’s economy each year,” she said.
“The event is firmly established in the region’s calendar and continues to grow with planned flying displays taking place each day from Friday until Sunday. Each year, council members and guests are invited to attend the event.
“This year, for the first time, the invitation was extended to cover the Friday evening as well as the Sunday programme.
“This along with a slight increase in the number of people accepting the invitation resulted in a proportionate increase in costs for hospitality.”
Civic leaders find themselves facing a funding gap of £39.8million during the next financial year, on top of £170million it has already had to slash from budgets in the last five years.
Tory opposition leader Lee Martin, said: “We can’t have the cost of councillor hospitality doubling at the same time as those very same councillors bemoan the savage cuts, that they say they are being forced to make to frontline services.”