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Councils' 'wild spending' criticised

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Councils are facing questions about their “wild” spending after details emerged of tens of millions of pounds of expenditure on taxpayer-funded credit cards.

Lavish expenses run up on the cards included first-class foreign travel, five-star hotels and expensive meals at Michelin-starred restaurants.

The spending comes despite demands by the government for local authorities to rein in unnecessary costs at a time when the public sector is facing massive cuts almost across the board.

The details were obtained by The Daily Telegraph under the Freedom of Information Act and included flights to Thailand, Kenya and Bermuda and hotel stays at the Four Seasons in New York, the Pan Pacific in Singapore and the Athens Hilton.

Gifts have been bought from Tiffany jewellery, Gucci products and pure silk ties.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles, right, said: “It appears that for years, some councils have been enjoying the high life paid for by you and me.

“Now that we are forcing councils to release details of their expenditure, the culture of wild overspends and excess which became the norm under Labour, will hopefully become a thing of the past.”

Cornwall Council in particular had a total credit card bill of almost £9m, including £1,145,160 on hotels, since 2008.

The expenditure included travel to Goa, India, Bangkok, Thailand and Kyoto, Japan and £81,000 on hospitality and restaurant meals.

Cornwall’s Liberal Democrat opposition leader, Jeremy Rowe, left, said: “At a time when Cornwall’s lowest paid workers are having their pay frozen it is outrageous that the - often handsomely rewarded - people on the top floor at County Hall are lavishing vast sums on travel, hotels, home cinema systems and even £1,000 on ‘pure silk ties’.

“It really is time the Tories, instead of merely posturing about keeping council spending under control, decided to get a grip on this astounding level of expenses on the taxpayer’s credit card.”

Cornwall Council said many of the spending figures it gave to The Daily Telegraph were inaccurate because they had not been converted from foreign currencies into sterling.

Council leader Alec Robertson, right, said: “Cornwall Council is committed to achieving the best possible value for money for council tax payers in Cornwall.

“All spending, including credit card spending, is very closely monitored and strict financial controls are in place.

“However, while we are committed to being open and transparent, this incident shows the importance of analysing raw data carefully and responsibly.

“Unfortunately the deadline set by the newspaper meant that we were unable to check all the figures before the article was published.

“We are disappointed that, having told the journalist that the information was inaccurate, they did not give us the time to provide them with the accurate information.”

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