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Friday, December 19, 1997 Published at 18:07 GMT



UK

Council accused of 'blatant junketing'
image: [ The building that housed Doncaster Council ]
The building that housed Doncaster Council

A council at the centre of a police fraud inquiry has been criticised in an independent report for blatant junketing which cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds.


District Auditor, Bill Butler
District Auditor, Bill Butler, identified "serious failings" in the management of Labour-run Doncaster Council in northern England which led to councillors and officers flying club class around the world, accepting numerous free gifts and using council mobile phones and credit cards for their personal use.


[ image: The report took a year to produce]
The report took a year to produce
The report reveals that on one occasion four councillors and two officers spent three days in Dublin to "discuss the problem of management of stray horses".

Mr Butler also identifies other abuses, including a council officer receiving a wedding gift of 500 in travel vouchers from a private company in partnership with the council, and council drivers waiting outside pubs for members for up to nine hours.

Since the Doncaster scandal broke earlier this year, Council Leader, Peter Welsh, has resigned and Chief Executive, Doug Hale, and Finance Director, John Smith, have taken early retirement.

The three, plus deputy leader, Ray Stockhill, are singled out for criticism in the District Auditor's report.


[ image: Hundreds of thousands of pounds of council tax payers money was wrongly spent]
Hundreds of thousands of pounds of council tax payers money was wrongly spent
The District Auditor called the fraud squad in to investigate the council in March and in July Labour's National Executive Committee took the rare step of suspending the entire district Labour Party.

The report criticises members for failing to set an example of "proper behaviour" by taking "unacceptable levels" of hospitality and failing to declare it, making foreign visits without identifying any clear purpose and charging the council for alcohol "beyond reasonable levels".

During a four-day visit to Genoa, Councillor Stockhill, another member and two officers, ran up a bar bill of 336 which was charged to the council.

On another occasion Councillor Welsh and another officer attended a housing conference in Tokyo at a cost of 5,558. The conference was for four days but the trip lasted 11 days and included stays in Japan and Hong Kong on the basis that this would incur the most "advantageous travel costs."

Local Government Minister, Hilary Armstrong, insisted the Doncaster affair had demonstrated that the Labour Party would not tolerate wrong-doing.

"The Labour Party ... suspended people in Doncaster, the Labour Party took action as soon as there were any queries raised," she said.

"We suspended the councillors from office and we suspended the local party in order to make sure that all people being selected for next year's council actually understood what public office requires. It does require the highest integrity," she told BBC Radio 4's The World at One programme.

Shadow environment, transport and the regions secretary Sir Norman Fowler seized on the District Auditor's damning report.

Sir Norman said: "The message from the District Auditor's report on Doncaster council is blunt and damning. As the District Auditor himself says: `The overall senior management of the council failed.'

"The people of Doncaster have been betrayed by years of Labour misrule. "It is Labour councillors who must take responsibility for what has taken place."






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