Row erupts over cost of conference

EAST Anglian bureaucrats have defended their decision to go on a �7,500 day trip to a luxury conference centre when their own building has offices to spare.

Paul Geater

EAST Anglian bureaucrats have defended their decision to go on a �7,500 day trip to a luxury conference centre when their own building has offices to spare.

Go East, which runs government departments in East Anglia, came under fire from the Tories after it was revealed that its officials had spent �7,500 on an away day at Chilford Hall, a Grade II listed venue in Cambridgeshire renowned for its “art”, “sculpture”, “beauty and relaxation”.

The Tories said this move came despite the Government Office having premises in central Cambridge covering three acres of office space, with 241 parking spaces - more than enough for the 180 delegates.

The Conservatives were alerted by an internal whistleblower, who pointed out that staff had received an e-mail informing them they must not tell anyone about the day out, either on voicemail or their out of office emails.

Stewart Jackson, Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government, said: “This is yet more evidence that Gordon Brown's pledge of 'smarter government' is a sham.

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“While he hikes up council tax bills and thousands of families are being kicked out of their homes, his bureaucrats are burning taxpayers' money on secret luxury away days in mansions.”

Mr Jackson raised the issue with local government minister Rosie Winterton.

In an official reply she said: “The Government Office for the East of England (GO-East) held an event at Chilford Hall in November 2009. Chilford Hall conference centre was selected as it offered good value for money.

“The cost for the event was �7,562.45 (including VAT). Approximately 180 people attended; including 150 GO-East staff, non-executive directors and speakers and regional partners invited to participate.”

A spokeswoman for Go East said the decision to use the conference centre was taken because there were no rooms at the Cambridge headquarters large enough for the 180 delegates.

“We booked Chilford Hall conference centre, which is not a luxury hotel, because it offered the best value option to get everyone together to plan our work for the next year.

“The decision to book the centre was taken only after all the government's procurement procedures were followed.”