Page last updated at 16:02 GMT, Tuesday, 26 May 2009 17:02 UK

Consumer Council paid for article

By Johnny Caldwell
BBC News

Eleanor Gill
The article helped promote Ms Gill's new business venture

Taxpayers' money was used to pay for a magazine article which helped promote a new business founded by the Consumer Council's outgoing chief executive.

The Consumer Council, which is publically funded, paid £1,730 for the article, BBC News has learned.

It appeared in Agenda NI magazine earlier this year as Eleanor Gill stepped down from her post.

The piece highlighted her achievements in campaigns dealing with water rates and bank charges.

A headline on the story asked "...how will her time as consumer champion prepare for her life in the private sector?"

It has also emerged that food and drink at Ms Gill's leaving party in April cost £1,360.

More than £440 was spent on music, £375 on waiter service and £150 on invitations.

The expenses concerning the leaving party came to light on Tuesday in an Assembly question tabled by the DUP's Simon Hamilton.

"This is a highly questionable use of public money by an organisation which is charged with championing the cause of the consumer, and has done a good job in doing so to date," he said.

"But having criticised Translink for 10p rises, their stance over such issues now looks a little rich."

The Consumer Council is funded by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

Rick Hill, Chairman of the Consumer Council said of the Agenda NI article: "It's the Consumer Council's role to make the consumer voice heard and make it count.

"We choose various methods to communicate that voice, one being buying editorial space in professional, trade or business magazines.

"Agenda NI is a specialist magazine with an influential readership of 7,000 made up of business leaders and policy makers in the public, voluntary and community sectors in Northern Ireland.

"The Consumer Council has been paying for editorial space in Agenda NI magazine for the past three years. It is vital that key decision makers hear the consumer voice on policy issues such as rising energy prices, water reform and banking.

"The Consumer Council negotiated an annual block fee with Agenda NI of £7,415 in April 2008 to submit five articles over a 12-month period."

Mr Hill said it was had been decided to submit a final interview with Ms Gill as one of the five articles because she had a high profile in the media, coupled with the fact that the Consumer Council had previously paid for an article profiling an outgoing chairman.

He added that in the interview "she provides an insight into the impacts of the Consumer Council during her time as Chief Executive" and "naturally what her plans for the future involved."

Ms Gill has started what's described as "a business transformation consultancy".

She could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.



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