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Council’s 15-strong trade mission to US criticised by consumer watchdog

US-bound: Mealla Campbell
US-bound: Mealla Campbell
Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

Four trade missions organised by Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council (ABC) between November and March 2020 have been called into question by a leading consumer watchdog.

The council is funding a four-day trip to North America for 15 people - 10 traders and five council officials including the mayor, departing today which it says will hopefully "market intelligence, strengthen government links and identify areas for partnership and gain knowledge transfer - further maximising the potential long-term economic benefits that can be derived from this trade mission".

However Harry Fone, Grassroots campaign manager at the TaxPayers' Alliance, said it is "dubious" whether or not such trade missions present value for money for ratepayers.

The joint civic and business delegation which will be led by Lord Mayor Mealla Campbell will seek export opportunities in Pennsylvania and City of Philadelphia while other similar trips have been organised to the Irish Republic, GB and India.

Speaking ahead of this trip the mayor said: "As an economically ambitious council, our focus is firmly fixed on helping local companies identify new markets and fast track their way to exporting success, while also promoting our borough's strong proposition to a global pool of potential investors.

"By forging new economic partnerships, we can help these companies scale up, accelerate their time to market and ultimately achieve growth targets.

"Moreover, we will be able to gain market intelligence, strengthen government links and identify areas for partnership and knowledge transfer - further maximising the potential long-term economic benefits that can be derived from this trade mission."

Alderman Stephen Moutray, chair of the council's Economic Development and Regeneration Committee said growing Northern Ireland's export base had been a key pillar to the regions economic strategy.

"We have aligned our priorities with this," he said.

"Our region is a global leader in many sectors for which the US has growing demand.

"By mobilising our efforts, we can help local enterprise explore, target and exploit new commercial opportunities in this lucrative market.

"This is our second outward bound mission to the US in the past 18 months, as we raise our game in pursuing a more robust export-led growth strategy and maximise the borough's connections worldwide to drive growth."

Casting doubt on the potential benefits, Mr Fone said the council could spent the costs of these trips better.

He said: "It is highly dubious that trade missions by local councils generate value for money. Taxpayers will rightly be suspicious that councillors and bureaucrats are enjoying a jolly at their expense.

"The council would be better off putting all the money for flights and hotels into providing better frontline services and keeping rates low."

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