Town halls accused of insulting taxpayer by splashing out £350,000 to send staff to glitzy award dinners

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By Ketrin Agustine

  • City of Wolverhampton Council spent a total of £13,403 for 48 employees

Town halls were last night accused of insulting taxpayers by spending thousands of pounds on awards ceremonies.

An audit reveals that 100 councils have together spent almost £350,000 on events celebrating their work.

Some sent dozens of staff to the glitzy dinners, which this year were hosted by BBC star Huw Edwards just before he was suspended. Other local authority employees travelled by plane or first-class train to ceremonies and judging sessions and stayed at four-star hotels.

One council that splashed out more than £1,200 on this year’s MJ Awards ceremony, having received a prize for its excellence last year, has since declared itself bankrupt.

Elliot Keck, head of campaigns at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘Nothing will insult taxpayers more than back-slapping, booze-fuelled award ceremonies to celebrate years of failure.

Town halls accused of insulting taxpayer by splashing out £350,000 to send staff to glitzy award dinners

The biggest spender to send staff to the MJ awards was the City of Wolverhampton Council, which sent 48 employees at a cost of £13,404

‘Town hall after town hall has had to fess up to wrecking their finances, while almost every council in the land has hiked rates year after year.

‘Next time a council receives a nomination, they should consider whether their residents would really be happy to foot the bill for them to accept it in person.’

The pressure group asked hundreds of councils whether they had spent public money on sending staff to the MJ Awards, held annually by the Hemming Group, a business publisher.

In total 100 replied, providing details of £347,344 paid out between 2019 and 2023. The biggest spender was the City of Wolverhampton Council, which sent 48 employees at a cost of £13,404.

In 2021 it paid out £1,530 to put staff up at a Hilton hotel and last year spent £5,590 on tables for 18 guests to enjoy the ceremony.

A spokesman said: ‘We have significantly reduced what we spend on these awards, spending just £89 in 2023 thanks to securing sponsorship to fund much of the cost.’

Second was Isle of Wight Council, which spent £11,600 including thousands when the event was held virtually during Covid in 2020.

In 2019 it spent £625 on accommodation at the New Linden Hotel and on travel costs, including ‘flights to Manchester for three officers to attend the judging day’, as well as ferries to the mainland.

A spokesman said: ‘The Isle of Wight Council has not attended the MJ Awards since 2021. The costs highlighted in the referenced FoI document are of a historic nature and also a one-off expenditure. They do not impact on the current budget-setting process.’

Essex County Council came third, spending £11,281 over two years. Last year 25 delegates attended the event – at which Essex’s health and care services team won an award – and this year seven went.

A spokesman said: ‘Being nominated for a national award recognises the excellence of our services and celebrates the hard work and achievements of our employees.

‘Last year, a very small number of employees attended the MJ Awards, at a cost which was less than 0.0008 per cent of the council’s budget. This year’s awards cost just 0.0002 per cent of our budget.’

And fourth was Rushcliffe, a small borough council in Nottinghamshire, which spent £9,597 sending 25 delegates this year. A spokesman said it was important to recognise the hard work of staff.

Nottingham City Council, which recently went bust, spent £1,255.

Hemming Group said that its awards ‘recognise the work of frontline council staff and managers across the UK.’

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