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Councillors enjoy luxury hotel at your expense - weeks before revealing budget savings

PUBLISHED: 06:15 27 February 2020 | UPDATED: 11:14 28 February 2020

Breckland Council spent more than £1,000 on a luxury stay for its leadership at Congham Hall Hotel while it planned budget savings. Picture: Ian Burt/Congham Hall Hotel

Breckland Council spent more than £1,000 on a luxury stay for its leadership at Congham Hall Hotel while it planned budget savings. Picture: Ian Burt/Congham Hall Hotel

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A council spent more than £1,000 on a luxury away day in a hotel for its leadership while it planned £4m of budget savings.

Congham Hall Hotel where Breckland Council's cabinet stayed in January. Picture: Ian BurtCongham Hall Hotel where Breckland Council's cabinet stayed in January. Picture: Ian Burt

Breckland Council's cabinet enjoyed drinks, a three-course meal and an overnight stay at Congham Hall, near Grimston, in West Norfolk in January.

Opposition councillors asked why taxpayers forked out £1,120 for eight councillors and an officer to stay in the Georgian manor, which boasts 30-acres of parkland and a luxury spa, when they live in the same county.

But the Conservative-run council said it was good value for money and the away day helped the councillors "focus on developing a new strategy".

The hotel, which has a restaurant with two AA rosettes, cost £140 a night per councillor.

Congham Hall is a luxury hotel near Grimston. It boasts a luxury spa and swimming pool. Photo: www.conghamhallhotel.co.ukCongham Hall is a luxury hotel near Grimston. It boasts a luxury spa and swimming pool. Photo: www.conghamhallhotel.co.uk

Labour councillor Harry Clarke said: "This is the sort of thing which makes the public cynical about politicians.

"They all live within the Breckland area so there is a question mark over the overnight stay. I could fit eight people around my dining room table and we could have had a fry up in the kitchen instead."

At the same time as the stay, Terry Jermy, Labour councillor for one of the council's poorest areas - Thetford's Burrell ward - was complaining parts of the town were being left in darkness as council-owned streetlights kept breaking.

"Councillors regularly raise complaints about poor services," he said. "They need to justify their actions and be open."

Congham Hall is a luxury hotel near Grimston. It boasts a luxury spa and swimming pool. Photo: www.conghamhallhotel.co.ukCongham Hall is a luxury hotel near Grimston. It boasts a luxury spa and swimming pool. Photo: www.conghamhallhotel.co.uk

Three weeks after the stay, Breckland put forward its latest budget, which shows it needs to make savings of £4m over the next four years and is slightly increasing council tax.

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A Breckland Council spokesman said: "In light of changing demands on the council and changing national policies, for the first time in a number of years Breckland's senior officers and members held an away day to enable them to focus on developing a new strategy for the council and the best way to deliver the most appropriate services going forward.

"Congham Hall was chosen as a good-value deal was secured and the site provided necessary dedicated meeting facilities, catering, and the ability to work throughout the day, during the evening and again the following morning."

-Hotel stays

Freedom of Information requests to other Norfolk councils showed no other had spent money on a similar luxury away day as Breckland did in January.

We put in requests to every Norfolk council asking for the amount they spent on hotels.

Congham Hall is a luxury hotel near Grimston. It boasts a luxury spa and swimming pool. Photo: www.conghamhallhotel.co.ukCongham Hall is a luxury hotel near Grimston. It boasts a luxury spa and swimming pool. Photo: www.conghamhallhotel.co.uk

Broadland Council refused the request, stating it would take too long and be too expensive.

South Norfolk only gave figures for councillor stays in hotels. It spent £1,700 last year and £150 so far this year.

Great Yarmouth provided numbers for all its employees and councillors. It has spent £15,500 since 2018 on a range of hotels from Travelodges to Hiltons.

Breckland spent £5,000 on accommodation for its officers last year and £890 for councillors.

Breckland councillor Terry Jermy said more needs to be done to fix the broken street lights in the Thetford. Photo: Terry JermyBreckland councillor Terry Jermy said more needs to be done to fix the broken street lights in the Thetford. Photo: Terry Jermy

Norwich City Council only declared one stay - the Birmingham Metropole in October last year, costing £308.

North Norfolk, Norfolk County Council and West Norfolk had not responded by the time of publication.

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