British Council defends £7m bill
The British Council has defended spending nearly £7 million on credit cards in the past two years after a campaign group accused its staff of "living the high life abroad" at taxpayers' expense.
Employees at the council, the UK's international cultural relations body, stayed at five-star hotels and dined at expensive restaurants while on business overseas, a Freedom of Information request by the TaxPayers' Alliance found.
It revealed staff and their guests enjoyed stays at top hotels such as Caesar Park in Rio de Janeiro and the Renaissance Hotel in Dubai, while using the credit cards for haircuts, cinema trips and corporate entertainment on the London Eye.
A spokeswoman for the British Council said most of its revenue was generated privately and did not come from the public purse.
She said: "Whilst we understand and recognise the importance of the role of the TaxPayers' Alliance, it is unfortunate that they have not recognised that the British Council actually earns the majority of its income and is only partly funded by UK taxpayers.
"It's completely wrong to describe all of this expenditure as taxpayers' money. Less than a third of our income comes from our Government grant. We earn the rest ourselves through our business activities such as teaching English and delivering development contracts, and all our work benefits the UK. This credit card expenditure only represents 0.5% of our total income."
She added that the council generated £1.2 billion for the UK economy, a return of £6 for every £1 invested by taxpayers, while its work in emerging markets such as China and Brazil was imperative to helping economic growth in Britain.
But Matthew Sinclair, director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said the spending was unnecessary when millions of Britons were having to cut their costs.
He said: "Taxpayers will be worried that they are being asked to support British Council bureaucrats living the high life abroad while they have to tighten their belts at home. Of course the organisation's job is to promote Britain abroad, which means it will incur travel and accommodation costs, but staff need to keep these to a minimum.
"They need to explain many of the items bought with their credit cards which look extravagant, like the huge amounts spent at upmarket hotels. The British Council's new year's resolution should be to cut these bills and be more transparent about how they spend taxpayers' cash."