A political editor has exposed the money spent by a council on its credit cards, including a £360 meal at an exclusive restaurant.
Paul Francis, group political editor at the KM Group, examined the receipts and expenses charged on Kent County Council’s credit cards from 2009-10.
Using audit regulations allowing people to look through local authority accounts, he discovered the council had hosted a meal at exclusive London restaurant Rules.
Paul found the meal, described by the council’s former chief executive as a ‘working dinner with government consultants’, was held just two weeks after the authority announced its budget and a pay freeze for thousands of staff.
He reports that during the meal, the three council representatives and their two guests enjoyed a meal which included foie gras terrine, native oysters, loin of deer, sirloin steak and a rack of lamb.
The meal also included two bottles of wine, one of which cost £39.50, but the authority said the council leader had since paid £15 towards the cost of this.
During his search of the accounts, Paul also found a trip to the Edinburgh Film Festival involving a stay in a five-star hotel which cost more than £800, a business breakfast for £47.85 held at a hotel just two miles from County Hall and a number of other restaurant meals.
Paul reports the claims were all cleared under the council’s rules and the authority had explanations for them but said they were ‘bound to raise eyebrows’.
Writing about the claims on his blog, he said: “As MPs discovered with their expenses claims, the public do not take kindly to this kind of thing and neither, I imagine, will KCC employees facing an uncertain future about their jobs.
“Residents struggling to make ends meet may also need some convincing that this kind of thing is appropriate and necessary.
“My own view is that this reflects the corporate culture at County Hall which considers and often likens KCC to a private business. Wining and dining of clients and others goes on all the time at large companies but KCC remains a public body.
“Yes, hundred pounds here and there may not seem much but that misses the point. As the authority warns about the need for some serious belt-tightening, it really ought to be leading by example.”
A spokesman for Kent County Council said the meal in London had been a working dinner to discuss how to make the best use of public buildings under the government’s Total Place initiative.
He said: “The cost of the meal was £357.98, which works out at approximately £70 per head. Members now contribute towards the cost of alcoholic drinks, which should come off this figure.
“The Kent Total Place submission highlights the potential to save the public purse many millions of pounds.”
Kevin Duffy (11/08/2010 13:26:53)
Nice work and great to see someone making use of this legislation. I did the same exercise some years back while reporting Oldham, Greater Manchester and demanded the mobile phone bills and credit card bills of senior councillors and chief officers. It was through gritted teeth that they thanked us for two particular disclosures;
1. I revealed that one councillor’s old mobile phone had been cloned and the mystery miscreant’s misuse was being been billed, unnoticed, to the council.
2. The council was unwittingly continuing to pay a monthly service charge for a credit card that it no longer had.
That was in addition to the standard slab of stories – which they didn’t thank us for – about who spent what and where! The Opposition councillors were delighted to read all about it, however.
Bootneck02 (11/08/2010 22:15:52)
I have just retired from KCC as a lowly surf and the top echelons of are full of people who have forgotten that they are to serve the Kent council tax payer and not to have their hoofs in the trough. They ate endlessly talking about the Business and forgotten that they run a service for the betterment of the population.
At the moment they are talking of closing the homes for the elderly and transferring clients to the private sector.
Vicky (12/08/2010 09:51:19)
It’s one way of making the world go round!! Greed is another. Whats new, and I suppose it’s all still going on! Thank you Helen Lambourne. I bet there is a lot more to be found where this one came from.