Downing Street trip prompts cost query

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FIFE Council leader Peter Grant has defended the use of public money to fund a trip to London as part of the Save RAF Leuchars campaign.

Three north east Fife councillors – Tim Brett, Ron Caird and David MacDiarmid – travelled to 10 Downing Street along with the RAF (Residents Action Force) Leuchars campaigner Carroll Finnie to present a 7500-signature petition backing the base, which is under threat of closure due to defence spending cuts.

Councillors Brett and Caird travelled by train first class to London, while they all made the return journey the same day with a budget airline.

It is understood Fife Chamber of Commerce made the travel arrangements for the two Taybridgehead councillors, while as a late addition to the party, Councillor MacDiarmid made his own arrangements to travel standard class by train, but also flew back.

They were joined in the capital by North East Fife MP Sir Menzies Campbell, sitting MSP Iain Smith and Labour MP Thomas Docherty.

Cupar councillor Bryan Poole has now written to Fife Council chief executive Ronnie Hinds asking if the local authority would be footing the bill.

Councillor Poole said he had been approached by constituents who felt that if councillors were attending on behalf of their party, it should be the party which met the cost.

He said: “With regard to the Save Leuchars Campaign, I have previously expressed concerns about local people and local communities being used for the political ends of politicians and political parties around the campaign.

POLITICAL

“The Save Leuchars Campaign is essentially a political campaign which all the mainstream political parties have signed up to or jumped on the bandwagon — whichever way one wants to look at it.

“As such any costs associated with the campaign should be borne by the political parties and those individuals who are associated with the campaign — I do not believe that the taxpayer via Fife Council should be funding any of the activities.”

In response, Councillor Grant said: “This was not a party political event. It was organised by the community-based campaign group.”

Councillor Grant said that in December the local authority had agreed to support the campaign, and that it was “entirely appropriate” that the council was represented as part of the Downing Street delegation.

He added: “The travel costs to Fife Council are nothing compared to the £60 million per year that Fife will lose if the base closes.”

Steve Grimmond, executive director for housing and communities, said: “The Residents Action Force campaign has a small fund from the local area budget.

“This is to be used for publicity materials including banners and posters and to pay for local community members to attend a meeting in London and present a petition to Downing Street.”