A visit to Germany by a beleaguered council currently making “savage” cuts has been described as a “jolly”.
Argyll and Bute Council is preparing to reduce its waste collections to every three weeks, and axed 82 jobs at its last budget – with hundreds more expected to go in the coming years.
But it recently spent £2,500 from its twinning budget to send one councillor, three officers and four people from local businesses and a social enterprise, on a five-day trip to Bavaria.
The delegation visited a district in Germany which has transformed its own economy and successfully reversed a decline in its population.
The trip to Amberg-Sulzbach in Bavaria focussed on economic growth, sharing best practice and promoting Argyll and Bute to the international European market.
But last night Councillor James Robb, of the opposition SNP group, said such trips could not be “justified” given the tough economic situation the council was in.
“Given the savage cuts to services being imposed by the council such jollies for so many can’t be justified,” he said.
“What new has been actually learned? How many council officers does it take to do a field report on a visit? Don’t we live in an internet age where such information is available at the touch of a button?”
Eben Wilson, director of Taxpayer Scotland, added: “Council taxpayers generally prefer their money to be spent on local services and improving them.
“Spending like this must be followed up with a proper independent audit.”
But Councillor Aileen Morton, policy lead for sustainable economic growth, who went on the trip, defended the decision to go.
“Growing our population and the local economy was very much on the agenda during the highly successful visit,” she said.
“Following the EU referendum result, it is even more important that the council maintains and strengthens our European ties and partners. In this respect the visit to Amberg-Sulzbach, which is overcoming the same challenges that we are experiencing in Argyll and Bute, was important and enlightening.”
As part of the delegation, representatives from Argyll businesses visited an applied sciences institute, an organic farm that has diversified into renewable energy production and tourism, and a centre for renewable energies and sustainability.
The itinerary also included visits to see care-at-home facilities for the elderly.
Ms Morton added: “Obviously it will take time to see if the twinning link can be revived and bring economic as well as cultural benefits to the two regions but considering the circumstances we find ourselves in, I think we need to have a willingness to try different approaches.”