A council that promotes Britain overseas has been accused of wasting millions on expensive restaurants and luxury hotels. The British Council is partially funded from taxpayer money and has spent £6.7 million over the last two years, rising between the last year of the Labour government and the first year of the Coalition. The TaxPayers' Alliance revealed the details of the British Council's spending habits. The organisation has 6,800 employees worldwide, and nearly one-third of the group's funding comes from the government.
In the detailed figures, the British Council spent almost £2 million on hotels during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 financial years. These hotel stays were at the five-star Park Hyatt in Dubai, the Renaissance in Hong Kong and the Caesar Park in Rio de Janeiro. Over £30,000 being spent at the Imperial Hotel in New Delhi, where two credit card bills for the venue's restaurant totalled £1,376. Expenditure for accommodation bills rose £437,424 during the two years. Meanwhile, spending on restaurants rose £152,402 and flights increased £183,567.
Although the British Council promotes the UK abroad, money was spent by the organisation on London Eye trips and the "Yellow Duckmarine" Liverpool river trip. The credit cards have also been used for Body Shop goods, trips to the cinema and iTunes purchases. They even used the funds to pay for a staff member's £142 haircut.
The use of the credit cards has been defended by the British Council. It says that these details only represent a tiny fraction of the group's total spending, and a majority of its revenue is privately generated and doesn't come from public funds. A spokeswoman says that it's unfortunate that the TaxPayers' Alliance hasn't recognised that the British Coucnil earns most of its income and is only partially funded by taxpayers. It's totally wrong to describe all of the expenditure as public money when less than one-third of their income is derived from the government grant.
The spokeswoman continued that they earn the rest of their funds through business activities – delivering development contracts and teaching English – and all their work benefits the country. This credit card expenditure only reflects 0.5% of the organisation's total income. It has generated £1.2 billion for the economy – a £6 return for every £1 taxpayers invest – and its work in emerging markets like Brazil and China is vital to helping the nation's economic growth. The use of credit cards means the council can save money by reducing administration costs and the number of advance payments.
However, TaxPayers' Alliance director Matthew Sinclair says that the spending isn't necessary when millions of Brits are having to reduce their own expenses. Taxpayers will be concerned that they are being asked to support the bureaucrats of the British Council who live the high life overseas while they have to tighten their lifestyles. The job of the group is to promote Britain abroad, and it will incur travel costs due to this. However, its workers need to keep the costs to a minimum.
Sinclair added that the British Council needs to explain a lot of the items charged to their credit cards, as the huge amounts spent on upmarket hotels looks extravagant. The new year's resolution for the organisation should be to reduce these bills and be more transparent about how taxpayers' money is spent.