Leader defends luxury stay as council sets annual budget
PUBLISHED: 06:30 28 February 2020
Breckland Council/Ian Burt
A council leader has defended the decision to book a luxury retreat for cabinet members as the authority decided its spending for the year.
Speaking as Breckland Council agreed its budget for 2020/21, Sam Chapman-Allen said the £1,120 cost for an overnight stay at Congham Hall, near Grimston, was a "very small amount of money".
At Thursday's budget setting meeting, councillors voted to raise its share of council tax by £4.95 per annum for residents in Band D properties, taking the overall cost to £93.78.
With the Conservative-led council under fire for spending taxpayers' money on an extravagant away day, Mr Chapman-Allen said the hotel had been the right arena to reach a "positive outcome".
"This council continues to invest not just in its offices and staff, but also its senior politicians," he added. "As leader, I was committed to ensuring they dedicated the necessary time to the strategies put forward.
"I acknowledge the concerns that some residents may have, but I think it was a very small amount of money. It's important these types of events sometimes take place away from the council, where we may get interrupted, and that I get the cabinet in place for a long period of time."
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But Independent councillor, Roger Atterwill, questioned the principle of budget meetings taking place in such a lavish location. "I'm a great believer in teamwork, but the optics of this are terrible," he said. "Over Christmas a family in my ward was sleeping in a tent, I've been dealing with homeless people - and they're reading you've had an away day at a top hotel.
"I agree you need to sit down and focus as a team but, when you're booking hotels for £1,000, to the public we serve it looks terrible."
Breckland's spending plans will see around £770 spent per household on delivering services, with £750,000 set aside to fund projects supporting high streets in market towns.
Also unveiled was a £1m programme of support for vulnerable people over the coming years.
Terry Jermy, leader of the Labour Group, added: "I don't think the budget's perfect but, given financial constraints, that is impossible to achieve."
"Breckland is trying to make a difference to the lives of its residents and, if giving cross-party support helps, I'm prepared to do that."
Norfolk County Council has also announced a 3.99pc rise in council tax, while a 3.95pc increase will help fund the police.