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Fire authority criticised over 'junket'
A fire authority has been criticised for inviting its members to a taxpayer-funded conference at a golf and spa resort – three weeks after announcing fire engine and job cuts.
East Sussex Fire Authority last month axed 24 full-time posts across Brighton and Hove and will remove a fire engine from either Preston Park or Hove in a bid to save more than £7 million over the next five years.
But it has been accused of frivolous spending after inviting 18 councillors who sit on the authority to a taxpayer-funded conference and overnight stay at the Wyboston Lakes resort in Bedfordshire.
The invitation, sent on behalf of chief fire officer Des Prichard, includes dinner and travel arrangements for the 260-mile roundtrip from Brighton to the Combined Fire Authorities conference in October.
Wyboston Lakes told The Argus an overnight “leisure” stay with dinner in October would cost £2,100 for 18 people – not including the cost of hosting a conference and travel.
Nancy Platts, Labour Parliamentary candidate for Brighton Kemptown and Peacehaven, said: “It is clearly outrageous that taxpayer’s money can be spent like this at a time when front line services are being cut.
“The views of thousands of local people were recently ignored by the majority of fire authority members who voted for the cuts to our fire service. Those same councillors now seem set to enjoy a luxury night away at the taxpayer's expense.
“I call on councillors from other political parties not to attend this event and instead work out how they can save frontline fire services in Brighton and Hove.”
Ms Platts said the authority’s labour councillors had already declined the invitation.
Simon Herbert, chairman of the East Sussex Fire Brigades Union, said other councillors should follow suit.
He said:“It’s rather concerning when at a time when they’re trying to balance their books they think they can afford day and nights out for fire authority members at a golf and spa resort.
“I’ve also never heard of a Combined Fire Authorities conference before, I don’t know what it is.
“You have to cut your cloth accordingly. If something needs to go to save cash, days out on potential jollies and conferences should be the first to go.”
A spokeswoman for the East Sussex Fire Authority said the conference was an opportunity for councillors to meet with national colleagues, adding: “It is a matter for each politi- cal party on the fire authority to decide on their attendance and if they do attend, if they will stay overnight at the venue."
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