Council tax payers in Brighton and Hove picked up the tab for two slap-up meals for council chiefs and their clients which cost more than £900.
The dinners took place at English’s restaurant in East Street and Chilli Pickle in Jubilee Square. They were charged to the credit card of Brighton and Hove’s convention bureau manager as official council business.
In the financial year 2013-14, 24 members of council staff had official credit cards and racked up spending amounting to £137,134.
I unearthed the details of the spending under rules which allow all council receipts and bills to be examined by the public for a limited period.
A council spokeswoman said both posh meals were connected to the UK Meetings Show, an international conference trade show held in London Olympia.
The spokeswoman said that after the show eight of the most promising potential clients were invited to come to the city to “see the conference venues, meet city representatives and get an appreciation of all that our city can offer”.
There were eight senior level conference organisers at Chilli Pickle and two council city representatives including one from VisitBrighton. At the meal in English’s, there were eight senior level conference organisers, including two from VisitBrighton.
At English’s the group enjoyed four bottles of St Clair wine from New Zealand totalling £115.80. At Chilli Pickle the diners chose the table h’ote menu costing £227.50.
Other council credit card costs in 2013-14 included a six month licence for a photograph of a cricket ball hitting stumps which cost £500.51 and a waterfront sailing event for conference organisers which cost £260.
Spending on hotels and hospitality during the financial year amounted to more than £3,800.
Councillor Graham Cox, who represents the Conservative Group in Westbourne Ward, said: “I would expect all purchases on a corporate credit card to be scrutinised and authorised by a manager senior to the council officer making the purchase.”
Leader of Brighton and Hove City Council Jason Kitcat was one of a party of three people who stayed for two nights at the Hotel Gravensteen in Ghent at a cost of £474.80. When asked to comment he told me to put my enquiries through the press office. It has yet to respond.
Response from the finance department at Brighton and Hove City Council:
“We have had a note from Visit Brighton that reports a successful familiarisation visit following the UK Meeting Show. Lead times for meeting and conference bookings can be in excess of 12 months and Visit Brighton is in dialogue with several of the attendees who may confirm business in the future. To date, one of the attendees has booked two meetings and used two seafront hotels. Another attendee has booked an event with a sailing organisation based at Brighton Marina. A yacht based at the marina has also been chartered by an attendee of the visit.”