John O'Connell, Research Director of the Taxpayers Alliance, says that councils in the Midlands spent nearly £300,000 on flights over the last two years when they were advising others to cut down on theirs.
Do you really need to take that flight? It’s a question that the TaxPayers’ Alliance asked the Environment Agency back in 2009. Our research showed that they were taking unnecessary flights – particularly domestic flights – when they were advising others to cut down on theirs.
In the first of a new series of regional research notes focussing on the Midlands (we’ve had one already for the Yorkshire area, and are planning more elsewhere) we asked the same question and discovered that councils in the Midlands spent nearly £300,000 on flights over the last two years. Lincolnshire Council spent more than £27,000 on 12 trips to the USA and Canada, some of which were on BA ‘World Traveller Plus’ and business class. Let’s say all of these trips were of vital importance to the people of Lincolnshire. At more than £2,000 a flight, did they get good value for taxpayers when booking tickets? A quick web search for cheap flights will show that they certainly didn’t.
Redditch Borough Council spent more than £900 to send two employees to Brussels on a premium economy flight, whereas the same trip only cost Telford and Wrekin council £400. This disparity shows that councils can drastically reduce their costs in this area, and easily too. These are not painful cuts.
We’re happy to report that 29 councils in the Midlands did not spend anything at all on flights. That’s great news and we applaud them. The majority are smaller district councils – although notably Herefordshire spent nothing on flights – but there are also district councils that did spend money on flights, so it’s still important to congratulate them and hope others look to them as examples.
Local authorities have to start looking at expenditure like this – every single penny of it – and asking if they can get better value. Can they use video-conferencing instead? Or if they must absolutely book a flight, are they getting the cheapest deal possible? When your councillor tells you they have to cut library services because of squeezed budgets, ask them if they’ve managed to cut their council’s flights bill. Ask them if they’ve switched their mileage claims allowance to the HMRC recommended rate. Ask them if they’ve stopped hosting silly award ceremonies that infuriate residents.
Do you really need to take that flight? When we asked the question of the Environment Agency, they acknowledged that the amount of flights they had billed taxpayers for was excessive and promised to cut back. Let’s hope that councils in the Midlands – and elsewhere across the UK – follow suit.