Another Freedom of Information request to Tower Hamlets council hits the mark. Mind you, it’s not difficult.
BRITAIN’S most impoverished council spent £855 on a pair of first class rail tickets for two officials to attend a conference a couple of hours away.
Tower Hamlets Council in east London bought the tickets for children’s services director, Isobel Cattermole, and her deputy Ann Canning to travel to Manchester last July.
They attended the annual conference of the Association of Directors for Children’s Services, a two-hour train journey from London’s Euston station that normally costs £72 for a standard off-peak return.
However, the directors, who both earn around £116,000 a year, were given first class open returns on Virgin Rail, the most expensive tickets available, costing £427.50 each.
The spending, described by a minister as “disgraceful”, would have bought two return airfares from London to New York, with change to spare.
Tower Hamlets is the poorest borough in Britain where more than half of all secondary pupils receive free school meals.
When asked to justify the spending, the council said: “Open tickets are sometimes purchased to allow officers greater flexibility with travel times, where conferences finish early/late, or officers need to leave early due to unforeseen circumstances.”
However, conference organisers told the Sunday Express the conference began at 1.45pm on a Thursday and finished mid-afternoon the next day, both times allowing standard off-peak travel.
The council’s press office refused to disclose its policies for staff travel, saying it needed a request under the Freedom of Information Act, but a leaked document confirms officers are required to travel by standard class.
“Travelling expenses will be reimbursed at the available cheap rate or ordinary return fare, whichever is the lower,” the policy states.
Last night, Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis waded into the row.
He said: “It is disgraceful that the poorest borough in the country has such a reckless attitude to spending taxpayers cash. This kind of wild spending is all too typical of left wing councils who have a casual attitude to the public purse”
Roberty Oxley, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, described the spending as “incredible”, adding: “The rest of us could have flown half way round the world for that much money.
“It certainly appears that taxpayer value for money has taken a back seat to the directors’ desire for extra convenience and comfort.”
The council insists Whitehall spending cuts are causing so much hardship that the town hall is being forced to sell off the family silver.
Last week, its executive mayor, Lutfur Rahman, who hires a chauffeured Mercedes at a rate of £70 a day, announced a sale of the borough’s famous Henry Moore sculpture, the Draped Seated Woman, which is worth about £20million to plug a claimed £100million funding gap.
I think if I were a councillor, I’d be asking who requested this ticket, who authorised it, how many more are there, what trains these two actually took and what on earth was going through Ms Cattermole’s mind as she sat down in first class.