by Nic Rigby
BBC News Website, Norwich
MPs have called on a development agency to justify rising expenditure on entertaining prospective clients.
A meeting a Newmarket race course cost about £33,000
The East of England Development Agency (EEDA) has seen its hospitality and entertainment budget rise from £7,650 in 2002/03 to £61,642 in 2005/06.
The figures were obtained after a BBC News Website Freedom of Information Act request to the EEDA.
North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said the rises were "questionable" but EEDA said the money spent helped boost business.
The figures show that between 2002 and 2006 EEDA spent about £130,000 in total on corporate entertainment and hospitality.
EEDA expenditure on corporate entertaining and hospitality
The most expensive event was a Destination Growth event, with more than 500 delegates, which took place at Newmarket race course in November 2005 and cost £33,184 on the venue, catering and entertainment.
EEDA has also spent £3,000 a year on wining, dining and entertaining at the Confederation of British Industry East of England annual dinners in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005.
Mr Lamb told BBC News: "It is incumbent on public bodies to spend money wisely.
"The leap in cost (for hospitality) is pretty significant and must be questionable in terms of justification."
He added: "There has to be a question mark over the existence of a quango without democratic accountability."
Norman Lamb MP questioned the hospitality increases
Dr Ian Gibson, MP for Norwich North, said he understood money did sometimes need to be spent on hospitality, but was critical of the "tendency to think wining and dining the rich and beautiful will achieve things".
"If the hospitality bill continues to rise at this rate serious questions are going to be asked. EEDA also has to be more accountable," he said.
A spokesman for EEDA said the events "attract business leaders from across the region and have been successful in creating networking opportunities and generating new ideas for businesses, with the ultimate aim of boosting the regional economy".
He added: "As EEDA has grown considerably as an organisation since its inception seven years ago, this has given us the opportunity to shape and develop the region's economy in more ways than was previously possible.
"One of the ways EEDA has done this is by more effectively communicating with its regional stakeholders and partners.
"This has been done through public meetings and targeted events, which give large groups of individuals and businesses the chance to interact, hear from and put forward their views to EEDA representatives."