Belfast Telegraph

Cost of Cannes trip must be scrutinised

'Certainly there is no publicly-listed company locally whose shareholders would not be angry and prompted to take measures against such a flagrant misuse of funds'
'Certainly there is no publicly-listed company locally whose shareholders would not be angry and prompted to take measures against such a flagrant misuse of funds'

Editor's Viewpoint

The ratepayers in no fewer than six Northern Ireland council areas must be shaking their heads in disbelief at our revelation in today's paper that their officials spent £120,000 on attending a property investment conference in Cannes.

They may have travelled by air but images of gravy trains spring to mind. The staggering amount of ratepayers' money spent on this exotic excursion is almost beyond belief.

The six councils are Belfast, Antrim and Newtownabbey, Ards and North Down, Lisburn and Castlereagh, Mid and East Antrim, and Newry, Mourne and Down, and they must address basic questions about such an enormous outlay.

How much "property investments" business do the councils undertake? How can they justify such expenditure?

In an age of conference calls and digital networking, people will also be asking could the information the councils sought not have been sourced more inexpensively.

Why is it these gatherings of "all the key international players of the real estate sector" to spend four days of "exhibition networking and transaction" never seem to take place in less glamorous locations?

Local councils do have large property portfolios, but how much is held for investment? Previously, only Belfast council representatives attended this Cannes event.

Could the Belfast group not just have shared its new-found expertise with the others back at home, rather than all have a jolly to the French Riviera?

Last week we revealed the 20 senior council officials here receiving remuneration packages totalling more than £100,000 a year. Six were from Belfast council.

Officials may argue, with some justification, that the creation in 2015 of the 11 "super councils", replacing the previous 26 councils, means they rival some of the biggest private sector organisations in terms of staff and budgets.

This means they must then expect to have their activities scrutinised just as forensically. Certainly there is no publicly-listed company locally whose shareholders would not be angry and prompted to take measures against such a flagrant misuse of funds.

Some may feel that because a large organization is funded by ratepayers, anything can be justified financially. Yet ratepayers themselves need to spend wisely, so why can't councils, their staff and consultants do the same? We'd all like to jet off to Cannes on business, but for most people real life is not like that.

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