Belfast Telegraph

Belfast City Hall's £700k chauffeur bill

Luxury trips, fine dining and even pedicures also add to taxpayers' tab

By Amanda Poole

Belfast City Council spent more than £700,000 on chauffeuring the Lord Mayor and officials around in just four years, it can be revealed.

An investigation has discovered that when it comes to car travel, Belfast is second in the list of big-spending councils across the UK.

And the local authority spent £181,000 on foreign trips to 10 countries – including Israel, Italy and the US.

Belfast is just one UK authority in the spotlight in a new Channel 4 Dispatches investigation into how £440m of taxpayers money has been spent on everything from pedicures to golf lessons.

How Councils Waste Your Money reveals how council fatcats have spent a staggering sum on fleets of high-end vehicles as well as splashing out cash on five-star hotels, flowers, wine and Michelin Star restaurants.

Investigators found 246 chauffeur-driven cars are in use across the UK's councils, including 52 Jaguars, 24 BMWs, 17 Mercedes, three Bentleys and a Rolls Royce.

Belfast City Council runs a luxury BMW 7-series and spent £704,000 on driving council leaders and others between 2007-8 and 2011-12.

The programme's findings are based on hundreds of Freedom of Information requests, which offer a rare glimpse into how different UK councils spend ratepayers' money.

Last night, Jonathan Isaby, political director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said Belfast residents will be angry to discover that their hard-earned cash has been spent on what some might consider unnecessary perks.

"People expect the council to concentrate on delivering essential frontline services, not running up an eye-wateringly large bill on overseas travel and chauffeur-driven cars for a few civic leaders," Mr Isaby told the Belfast Telegraph.

"This kind of waste has to be cut out, particularly at a time when budgets are so tight, so that resources can be spent on essential services and more money left in taxpayers' pockets. I dare say a few Belfast councillors will be watching Dispatches with a sense of nervous trepidation."

Last night, a spokeswoman for Belfast City Council told the Belfast Telegraph she was not in possession of all the relevant Freedom of Information data, so could not comment in detail.

"All expenditure is carefully scrutinised and major outlays, such as foreign travel, go through the political process before being approved," she added. Earlier this year, a Taxpayers' Alliance report revealed there are 28,754 local authority staff paid over £50,000 a year – which cost taxpayers £1.9bn in 2011-12.

The research, published in February, indicates Northern Ireland was the only UK region to increase the number of staff being paid more than £50,000 in that period.

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