Hertfordshire County Council's taxpayer-funded jaunts to Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Holland and Sweden revealed
PUBLISHED: 15:00 28 October 2012
TRIPS to places as far afield as Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Sweden and the Netherlands have been charged to County Hall in the past two years, the Welwyn Hatfield Times can reveal.
But bosses say they cannot provide an exhaustive list of foreign visits made by their staff – claiming they are charged to a large number of accounts.
This newspaper asked for details of hotel bills outside the UK for elected members and council staff.
Data released under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that an officer from Herts County Council visited Robert Mugabe’s blood-soaked state in February.
A total of £376.78 was spent on the stay at the conveniently-situated Holiday Inn, in central Harare – where the average Zimbabwean earns around 62p a day.
The hotel’s website boasts that guests can “cool down with Malawi shandies from the pool bar as you relax next to Holiday Inn Harare’s pristine, outdoor swimming pool”.
Alternatively they can “sink into a sofa at the bar in our Silver Spur Steak Ranch restaurant and try a Zambezi beer before dining on pork ribs and sizzling steak from the open kitchen”.
In September 2010, the authority picked up a £935.70 bill for staying at the Capital Hotel in Abuja, Nigeria.
As well as the two trips to Africa, the WHT used Freedom of Information laws to reveal two hotel stays in Sweden and one in the Netherlands had also been paid for.
The Swedish trips, both in September 2010, cost taxpayers £119.69 and £974.74 respectively.
The same month, County Hall picked up a £43.05 bill for a stay in the Netherlands.
And the revelations could be the tip of the iceberg.
Last week the council said it would “not be possible” to provide details of other foreign hotel expenses, as they could have been paid for out of a dizzying array of expense accounts, as the number of claims on ‘Miscellaneous Expenses’ alone totalled 50,000 between September 1, 2010 and September 1, 2012.
A council spokesman said: “The trip to Zimbabwe in February 2012 was undertaken by a member of staff to assess the extended family of a child to hopefully unite the child with the family if appropriate.”
“We have a legal obligation to undertake these assessments before placing children with extended family.”
He said other hotel expenses could have been made for similar reasons.