Revealed: What @SurreyCouncil cabinet did at taxpayer funded Farnham Castle visits

From This Is Surrey: Revealed: What Surrey County Council cabinet did at taxpayer funded Farnham Castle visits. By Michael Davies, Thursday, March 14, 2013

THREE-COURSE dinners, sweets and special delegate stationary were just some of the commodities senior Conservative county councillors enjoyed when they used more than £10,000 of taxpayers’ money to host conferences at Farnham Castle.

Last month the team of top cabinet Tories, including leader David Hodge and chief executive David McNulty, were slammed by the public and opposition after the Mirror revealed they had spent £10,691.40 for three overnight stays – including one last November which cost £4,989.60.Council leader David Hodge and deputy Peter Martin, who were both at the Farnham Castle workshops.

And while the council cabinet remained silent on what happened at the residential “away days”, following a Freedom of Information request, the Mirror can now reveal what public money was spent on.

Among the team-building activities council members participated in during conferences at the 900-year-old castle – which cost £160 a head plus VAT – were a practice session on listening, a practice session on coaching, scenario planning to 2017, and a session on innovation myth-busting.

They also took part in several “walk-and-talk” sessions, which involved members walking around talking about issues they don’t normally deal with. The leader of the council also presented his five-year plan, although this has not been made public.During the final visit made last year, when the council spent the most amount of money at the castle, the meetings involved long-term financial planning for the county.

Opposition parties slammed the cabinet for using public money on the trips when the meetings could have taken place in council buildings.

“It’s ironic that the conservative leadership at Surrey County Council spent council taxpayers’ money on learning how to listen,” said Lib Dem opposition leader Hazel Watson. “It doesn’t take advanced listening skills to know Surrey residents don’t want to use their hard-earned money on overnight trips to castles in Surrey for the Conservative cabinet.”

Graham Wildridge, who is standing for Labour in the Earlswood and Reigate South ward at the upcoming county council elections, added: “Surrey needs a Labour voice to hold the lazy, arrogant, and complacent Conservative majority to account. It is perfectly proper that county councillors have good training for the jobs they do. But lesson number one is how to do it for the lowest cost.”

Council spokeswoman Joy Ridley said: “We use our own buildings as a first choice but every once in a while we need to meet elsewhere.

“This allows us to take a step back, carefully plan ahead and continue to develop the plans that have already led to millions of pounds of savings for the benefit of Surrey taxpayers.”

The council had planned a return trip to the council this year but has since cancelled it, stating “it is not the most suitable venue”.

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