Pre-Brexit trip slammed as ‘junket’ byTories
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.