Council has cut its air travel bill

HARTLEPOOL Borough Council has dramatically cut its spending on air travel in the last three years.

Figures published today by the TaxPayers’ Alliance pressure group show that while some local authorities in the region have shelled out hundreds of thousands on overseas trips, Hartlepool council’s spending has been much more modest.

The council spent £5,480 in 2009-10 to fly staff to St Petersberg, in Russia, as part of its research into hosting The Tall Ships Races.

But the following year, it spent just £160 on air travel to send staff to conventions and seminars.

The council increased its spending slightly to £224 for 2011-12 as its regeneration and neighbourhoods department attended an annual general meeting and seminar in Bristol.

A Hartlepool Borough Council spokesman said: “These costs were incurred in 2011-12 to enable us to attend a conference in the UK and this method of transport was chosen as it was cheaper than other alternatives.”

The report by the TaxPayers’ Alliance shows for the first time how much local authorities spent on flights in the North-East, from April 2009 to February 2012.

Sunderland City Council spent the most for the region at £210,000 to countries including South Africa and the USA.

Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “The stark difference in the number of flights undertaken by various town halls in the region suggests that some councils are being much more prudent than others.

“With modern technology such as video conferencing widely available, no-one need be spending large sums of taxpayers’ money on plane tickets.”

Durham County Council, the region’s largest local authority, spent almost £13,000 on flights over the three-year period.

It has fallen from £5,325 in 2009-10 to £2,497 last year.

Don McLure, corporate director of resources at Durham County Council, said: “The council is always extremely cautious about travel expenses and endeavours to avoid such costs wherever possible; where they are unavoidable the authority will seek the best deal.

“Air travel is not booked routinely but only where it offers the most appropriate and/or cheapest option.”