Councillors enjoy luxury hotel at your expense - weeks before revealing budget savings
PUBLISHED: 06:15 27 February 2020 | UPDATED: 11:14 28 February 2020
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
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.
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.