Revealed: Overseas trips by Norfolk council staff

The leader of Norfolk County Council has pledged to keep a close eye on visits overseas by the authority's staff and councillors after it emerged there were 100 trips abroad by officers and members in the space of 15 months.

While the council was unable to provide a complete breakdown of the costs, at least �38,000 was spent on flights and more than �16,800 on hotels.

Not all of the money came from the council's coffers, though, as some visits were funded by the likes of the British Council, the European Union and the government.

And council leaders said the visits had helped drum up investment in Norfolk, ensured children in care would be safe in new homes and been beneficial to the work of the authority.

The statistics, revealed through a Freedom of Information request, were for the period from January 2009 to May last year.

They revealed that council officers criss-crossed the globe while on site visits to investigate bidders submitting proposals for a waste treatment plant in Norfolk.

It emerged that three officers from County Hall's planning and transportation department went on fact-finding visits to a string of countries, including to Boston, Baltimore, Fort Lauderdale and Manchester in the United States.

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That was where they visited the head office of Cory Wheelabrator, which is the company in pole position to build an incinerator at Saddlebow in King's Lynn.

Officers visited the Cory Wheelabrator head office, the Milbury Energy from Waste facility, the Baltimore Energy from Waste facility and the South Broward Energy from Waste facility.

Within the space of two months, officers also visited Barcelona, Amsterdam, Marseilles, Frankfurt, Leipzig, Berlin, Trieste, Rome and Ljubljana to see plants being run by three other bidders – MVV, Resources From Waste and AmeyCespa.

They visited incinerators, mechanical biological treatment works and a facility which uses a process called gasification.

The county council said the 'approach was that bidders arranged internal travel and accommodation between sites and that the county council picked up the cost of flights and accommodation.'

Another globetrotter was chief executive David White.

He had two trips to the United States for an 'invitation only' leadership programme at Harvard University.

The first was in April 2009, to Boston, and the second was in November of the same year to San Francisco.

The county council paid �812.02 for the plane tickets and the �2,290.94 bill for a total of 14 nights accommodation, while the course costs were 'externally funded'.

The county council said that course was part of the BT Vital Vision Programme and it was an ideal 'development opportunity' for the chief executive of a very complex organisation which spends �1.5bn a year.

Many of the trips funded by children's services were related to placements of children.

By law, the council has to check that a child who has been in care, or is on the child protection register, will be safe in their new environment.

But, with the county council making �155m of savings over the next three years, its leader, Derrick Murphy said he was keep a close eye on trips being taken.

Mr Murphy said: 'Since taking over as leader in October, I am clearing all requests for foreign travel and looking at cases on an individual basis.

'I need to be convinced each represents good value for money and does not disrupt the services we provide. Many of these trips on the list, which dates back almost two years, were wholly or partially funded from agencies such as the British Council, the EU and others.'