Sunderland City Council’s leader, Graeme Miller, has defended the £3,000 cost of a trip to China stating it was good for business.
On January 3, the council boss jetted to Harbin for the International Sister Cities Symposium to build trade links and boost Sunderland’s profile.
At a meeting of full council at Sunderland Civic Centre this week, it was revealed the business trip cost £3,030.
The comments followed a public question which claimed the bill was more than five times this amount.
It read:”Does the leader think spending £16,000 to jet off to China gives the right impression of his caring for the community he is meant to serve while cutting vital public services?”
However, Coun Miller rebuffed the claim, stating the member of the public’s source was “clearly rubbish”.
“In today’s global economy it is essential for Sunderland, like other cities, to engage in the wider world and send a clear message that we’re open for business,” he said.
“This forms part of a balanced approach which is important for the council in seeking to serve Sunderland’s communities and their needs.”
Sunderland has a friendship agreement with Harbin which was signed in 2009 as part of a city-wide international strategy to boost Sunderland’s economy, communities and reputation.
As part of the trip, the council leader met representatives from the Harbin Municipal Government, Education Bureau and Economic Development Zone to discuss future plans between two cities.
The event also several cities and city regions take part in the ‘mayors roundtable’.
Coun Miller explained this forum allowed the council to “introduce the city and its strengths” as well as to build international links and create opportunities for the council.
He added: “I do believe that investing £3,030 and five days of my time at the start of January was a wise investment and that Sunderland will continue to benefit commercially from our global engagement strategy,
“It is nine years of austerity introduced by the ‘fib dems’ and tories in coalition in 2010 that has resulted in more than £290 million of cuts to this council’s budget.
“This council is delivering what it can with the money it has left so blame the tories and ‘fib dems’ for the cuts, not this Labour council.
“Sunderland currently has 25,106 jobs and 85 internationally-owned companies operating in 20 different territories.
“During the last five years we have secured more than 4,000 jobs and capital investment totalling £553.2 million from overseas companies.
“(This is) because the business investment team and occasionally the leader, goes overseas and talks to other countries and businesses who want to do business with us.
“I think £3,030 was very well spent indeed.”
Leader of the Liberal Democrat and Others group on the council, Coun Niall Hodson, called for more clarity on the impact of the trip for Sunderland.
“China is a notoriously very hard market to break into and extremely competitive, so I want to know how the money that was spent on your visit will have an impact,” he said.
But Coun Miller, responding, said it was “easily value for money” due to the knowledge gained and Harbin’s status as a “regional capital of the North East of China.”
And he stressed millions of pounds of investment had been directly linked to council efforts to go overseas to “find new markets and bring money and business here.”
On the benefits of the trip, he added: “If you can’t see that Coun Hodson, you need glasses because I think it’s clear to everyone in the room.”
Harbin, which is the eighth largest city in China and has a population of over 10 million, is seen as a gateway to Asia and key markets in Russia and South Korea.
It is a major centre for power generation, chemicals and automotives with developing industries in ICT, electronics and software.
Coun Miller was also accompanied on the trip by Catherine Auld, head of international relations, business engagement and investment on the council.
Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service