Pre-Brexit trip slammed as ‘jun­ket’ byTories

Stirling Observer - - FRONT PAGE - John Row­botham

Stir­ling Coun­cil Leader Scott Farmer was this week fac­ing flak over a planned trip to Brus­sels cost­ing tax­pay­ers over £500.

Coun­cil­lor Farmer is to take part in a three-day “fa­mil­iari­sa­tion” visit to the heart of the Euro­pean Com­mu­nity 12 months be­fore Bri­tain is due to exit the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

He said the trip or­gan­ised by the East of Scot­land Euro­pean Con­sor­tium was part of moves to min­imise the im­pact of Brexit but Tories dis­missed it as noth­ing more than a ‘jun­ket’.

A pro­posal for Coun­cil­lor Farmer to take part in the trip was yes­ter­day (Tues­day) ap­proved by the coun­cil’s provost panel, with sole Tory rep­re­sen­ta­tive Coun­cil­lor Jeremy McDon­ald ask­ing for his dis­sent to be recorded.

Coun­cil­lor Farmer will be in Brus­sels from March 19 to March 21 but travel to Bel­gium on March 18 and re­turn to Scot­land on March 22.

Stir­ling Coun­cil is to pay for Coun­cil­lor Farmer’s £130 travel costs while ESEC – an EC lobby or­gan­i­sa­tion funded by a seven Scot­tish coun­cils – is to pick up the bill for his ac­com­mo­da­tion in Brus­sels.

An ESEC spokesman said ac­com­mo­da­tion ar­range­ments had not yet been fi­nalised but was ex­pected to cost no more than £400 per per­son.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port tabled at the Provost’s Panel, the visit will be used to find out more about “third coun­try lo­cal au­thor­ity re­la­tion­ships with the Euro­pean Union”.

Meet­ings are sched­uled with the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment Brexit steer­ing group, Scot­tish MEPs, Euro­pean Free Trade As­so­ci­a­tion mem­bers, etc.

Coun­cil­lor Farmer said: “Given the con­sid­er­able un­cer­tainty and the po­ten­tial dev­as­tat­ing eco­nomic im­pact sur­round­ing Brexit, main­tain­ing con­struc­tive re­la­tions with our Euro­pean part­ners is es­sen­tial.

“The pur­pose of the visit is to build on con­struc­tive re­la­tions and dis­cuss with the rel­e­vant in­sti­tu­tions how lo­cal gov­ern­ment in par­tic­u­lar can main­tain pos­i­tive en­gage­ment post-Brexit.

“Given the cur­rent Con­ser­va­tive Gov­ern­ment’s ut­terly sham­bolic ap­proach to Brexit to date it is im­por­tant that as flex­i­ble an ap­proach as pos­si­ble is adopted.

“It is pos­si­ble that Scot­land could re­main mem­bers of bod­ies such as Eras­mus that fos­ters closer ties in ed­u­ca­tion and con­se­quen­tial ac­cess to fund­ing post leav­ing.”

Tory coun­cil­lor for Forth and En­drick Alis­tair Ber­rill said the coun­cil’s SNP-led ad­min­is­tra­tion was “drift­ing and di­rec­tion­less” since tak­ing over with Labour sup­port in May.

He added: “Coun­cil­lor Farmer is sup­posed to be the Leader of the Coun­cil, and is draw­ing a good salary for that, yet what does he have to say about Stir­ling’s de­te­ri­o­rat­ing waste col­lec­tion ser­vice? Noth­ing.

“He would much rather spend his time, and public money, on this point­less jun­ket to Brus­sels. The jus­ti­fi­ca­tion put for­ward by the SNP is a sham to try and de­fend this ‘jolly.’”

How­ever, speak­ing at the panel meet­ing, Provost Chris­tine Simp­son said: “If you don’t turn up then you don’t have any in­flu­ence.”

Both she and Green coun­cil­lor Alas­dair Tollemache spoke of the im­por­tance of the Eras­mus pro­gramme. How­ever, Coun­cil­lor McDon­ald said Coun­cil­lor Farmer should use the phone, email or other ways to get in­for­ma­tion about the sub­jects to be dis­cussed at the con­fer­ence. Of­fi­cials said video con­fer­enc­ing fa­cil­i­ties were un­avail­able.

Panel mem­bers were told it was “stan­dard prac­tice” for the coun­cil to re­ceive feed­back if mem­bers at­tend such events.

Stir­ling Coun­cil pays an an­nual sub­scrip­tion to the ESEC of £6750 but in­di­cated it in­tended to with­draw from the group at the end of March. How­ever, the ESEC unau­dited ac­counts for 2016-17 state Stir­ling Coun­cil had since de­cided to re­tain mem­ber­ship. Yes­ter­day’s panel heard that any chal­lenge to the coun­cil’s mem­ber­ship of ESEC would be a mat­ter for the full coun­cil.

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