HIC spent £5,000 at Claridge’s

HARROGATE Council has spent over £5,000 on meals at Claridge’s in London, papers released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal.

The authority racked up credit card bills totalling £5,313.19 as its Harrogate International Centre (HIC) sales team entertained potential clients at the five-star hotel’s restaurant.

They spent £3,889 at Claridge’s on March 14 this year and £1,424.19 on the same date in 2010, also paying £750.48 to caterers Compass Hospitality and £681.94 to the Copthorne Tara Hotel.

The figures came to light during a Daily Telegraph investigation into council spending.

Harrogate Council says the £3,889 expense ultimately secured £80,000 of confirmed business, with more currently being negotiated.

Coun Don Mackenzie, leader of the council and the HIC Board chairman, said: “I have sought an explanation of the expenditure and I have accepted that explanation.

“Obviously there are one or two items in there like Claridge’s which will make people think: ‘What are people doing there?’

“That expense was associated with the Confex conference. This was an event where members of our sales team could describe the facilities that we have.”

He said such meetings were part of running an international business, and the council expected to see returns.

“This is a marketing exercise that all premier events centres and venues have to go through. It’s an essential part of our budget,” he said.

The HIC made a loss of over £1m last year and has announced that 52 of its 108 jobs will be lost, with 28 compulsory redundancies.

A council spokesman said the centre brings in £180m of business to the district each year, and many jobs depend on its success.

“The Claridge’s event earlier this year was part of an intensive sales campaign based around our attendance at Confex, an international trade exhibition in London,” she said.

“Our sales team secured substantial business as a result of the campaign, and generated over £2m worth of potential bookings of which £1.6m is already at an advanced stage of negotiation.”