Conference cut-backs call to save cash

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HARTLEPOOL Mayor Stuart Drummond said councillors should only represent the town at conferences if it is “imperative” in a bid to save money.

He was speaking at a meeting of the full council in response to a question about Hartlepool Borough Council’s budget for conferences.

The cabinet committee has recently backed budget proposals to stop councillors attending conferences.

Independent councillor Geoff Lilley asked Mayor Drummond to give details of how the council’s budget for conference attendance has been spent over the last three years.

Mayor Drummond said in 2009-10 councillors attended 10 conferences at a cost of £4,755.

The total budget for that year was £7,365.

In 2010-11 just over £4,000 was spent of the £7,550 budget on 11 conferences.

So far this year £4,042 has been spent of the £7,739 budget on nine conference visits.

Coun Lilley said: “Bearing in mind the financial constraints and that most conferences are on the internet, do you think the amount we appear to be spending is money well spent?”

Mayor Drummond said that the cabinet had recently backed plans to stop councillors going on conferences unless it was “imperative” that they need to go.

He added: “In a time when everybody is making cuts and officers are being prevented I think that councillors should stop going to conferences.

“Cabinet have made that recommendation.

“There are events that people need to go to at times.

“When it is imperative, then ways and means should be found to make sure that Hartlepool is represented.

“In future we need to examine conferences and see if we need to go.”

Conservative group leader Ray Wells said he was “aghast” why members were debating the cost of conferences when Coun Lilley had earlier reiterated his previous calls for a costly judicial review over the decision to close the A&E department at the University Hospital of Hartlepool.

Coun Wells said: “I am slightly aghast why we are worrying about £4,000 while at the same time asking for a judicial review.

“The last one I looked at cost £1.3m.”