Aberdeen’s two most jet-setting councillors are at odds over how much of a role technological advances could play in reducing their taxpayer-funded travel.
Spending on expenses and salaries topped £1 million again last financial year but was around £5,000 less than in 2018-19.
Including councillor’s pay, a total of £1,018,806 was paid out.
The top two expenses claimants were economic development spokesman John Reynolds and Lord Provost Barney Crockett – although Mr Crockett claimed £14,000 less than the year before.
Top spender Councillor John Reynolds, who claimed £11,635 on top of his £30,000 salary last year, is hopeful that the coronavirus lockdown will mean his bill will decrease even further.
It has already reduced on the previous year when it totalled more than £12,000.
In the past year Mr Reynolds has travelled to Mexico and Colombia, looking to develop economic ties in burgeoning energy industries.
A self-admitted nervous flier, the independent councillor – who is a representative on the North Sea Commission – is hoping to keep his feet on the ground in Aberdeen.
He said: “One of the few positives out of the current situation is that we are learning to hold many of our meetings online.
“I’m hopeful that over the next few years we will be able to use technology that has existed for a long time and save people money on travel.
“I’m not the best flier anyway but it’s necessary for the job.
“I am hopeful we can save quite a bit of money on travel in the coming years.”
But Mr Reynolds believes some travel – to develop ties that lead to memorandums of understanding (MOU) such as the agreements between Aberdeen and Halifax, Canada as well as Pemba, Mozambique – is unavoidable.
But for the likes of the North Sea Commission, which meets around six times a year in Brussels, he is optimistic business can be carried out over the internet.
The Lord Provost, sitting second on the list of claims having totalled £11,231, was more for continuing to “fly the flag” for Aberdeen on the global stage.
Councillor Barney Crockett said: “I hope people will support us keeping up our international work – it’s vital to keep Aberdeen’s name out there.
“I have used technology in the last wee while and hope to continue but we need to be going out there and flying the flag for the city.
“I think there will be an element of using technology but I don’t think we will ever fully replace the person to person business.”
Leaders of the opposition groups on the council called for proof the pair’s travel was bringing trade and jobs to the city.
SNP group leader Alex Nicoll said: “It is astounding that Mr Reynolds is spending more on foreign trips than our own lord provost.
“Given the amount being spent on foreign travel I would very much like to see what tangible economic benefit there actually has been for our city.”
Liberal Democrat group leader Ian Yuill admitted it was “not easy” to gauge economic benefit of any one trip, adding: “In times when the council budgets are stretched it’s very important that each trip overseas, by councillors or staff, is justified – and if it is, we will support it.
“We have asked whether virtual participation is an option in the past – long before lockdown.
“Part of the problem is a lot of what goes on at these events is the informal contacts and relationship building and it is much easier in person than over a video conference call.”
Sex offender councillor among top expenses claimants
Outside of the top two expenses claimants, five councillors – including one currently suspended over a sexual assault conviction – were paid more than £1,000 on top of their salaries.
Labour’s Tauqeer Malik, the pensions convener, claimed £3,996 between 2019-20 which was the largest rise of all.
The Tory vice-convener of operations Philip Bell claimed £2,825 followed by the disgraced – and currently suspended – Alan Donnelly who was paid £1,771 in expenses.
Donnelly, who was convicted last year of sexual assault at a city function, clawed back the money in addition to his £17,510 pay packet.
Lib Dem Steve Delaney and the SNP’s Neil Macgregor’s claims also topped £1,000.
There was around a £5,000 increase year-on-year on spending on the civic car, used to transport the Lord Provost and visiting dignitaries around the city.
Nearly £20,000 was spent on the leased vehicle, which was replaced last summer.
The black BMW 725 was brought in for the older BMW 730 model – prompting criticism that it wasn’t a more environmentally-friendly model.
Lord Provost Barney Crockett said last night that he believed residents supported the use of the luxury car, which cost £19,823 for a year’s use.
“I don’t think there has been any dramatic change in the use of it,” he said.
“The lease renewal would have some effect.
“It’s a crucial part of the city’s history and Aberdonians will want to see it continue.
“The registration plate RG 0 is one of the rarest in the world and I think residents will want a civic car on the road as part of civic pride that we all have.”
Last July a council spokesman said the new civic car “cost less in monthly payments than the previous vehicle, has lower running costs and lower C02 emission.”