Tuesday 29 July 2008
Frequent Flyer Freer
Last year, Barnet Council Leader Mike Freer attended two conferences in America organised by British Telecom as part of the “Vital Vision Programme.” According to the council, the programme’s aim was “to build relationships between leading government decision makers, research partners and BT to develop and test respective visions of the future, focussing specifically on technological, social and business changes. It seeks to enable the shaping of policy, inform new thinking, and suggest practical solutions relevant to the unique complexities of the public sector.”
Sir Humphrey couldn’t have said it better!
Cllr Freer was given permission to attend the conferences by Chief Executive Leo Boland in a Delegated Powers Report dated 30th January 2007. It just goes to prove who is really running the council.
The report stated that the cost would not exceed £5,000, but receipts provided by the council show that the total cost was actually a fraction higher at £5,105.69.
Mike Freer told the Barnet Press on 8th February 2007 that he did not anticipate the first trip to Boston costing more than £1,000. However, the travel agent’s invoice showing the actual cost of £1,227.10 is dated 16th January 2007 and is personally addressed to him, so he must have seen it. It seems, therefore, as if Cllr Freer made a false statement knowing it to be untrue.
The balance of the money was spent on his trip to San Francisco in October/November 2007. The air ticket alone cost £2,993.20 because Cllr Freer decided to fly club class. Is that really an appropriate use of public money by someone claiming Thatcherite credentials? Most people would expect the Prime Minister to fly premium class when travelling abroad representing the UK. But the leader of a council on a meaningless junket?
Cllr Freer promised to plant trees to offset his carbon emissions. Does anyone know where they are, how much they cost and who paid for them?
Former LibDem leader Monroe Palmer said at the time that Mike Freer’s decision to spend five grand going to America left him almost speechless. Perhaps if Cllr Freer had spent a bit more, it would have silenced Monroe completely!
But there is a serious side to this. Leo Boland’s report says “It is anticipated that all of Barnet’s residents will benefit from the Leader’s participation in this programme.” How exactly? Did the Chief Executive debrief Cllr Freer upon his return? Did Cllr Freer hand over his conference notes?
When Mike Freer was selected as Conservative candidate for Finchley & Golders Green, he was challenged as to whether he would have the time to run the council properly. In response he said “The chief executive runs the council on a day-to-day basis. The leader of the council is not there to manage the nitty gritty.” Given that Cllr Freer is a "here today, gone tomorrow" councillor, what benefit was there to the taxpayer of him going on this management course? If there was any value to this conference, which I seriously doubt, the Chief Executive should have been the person to go as he's the guy in charge!
What a waste of our money!