FoI request reveals how council tax payers lost £300k

The Kent Messenger used the Freedom of Information Act to reveal how its local council lost nearly £300,000 of taxpayers' money.

Paul Francis, political editor of the paper's parent Kent Messenger Group, obtained documents under the act that reveal how Kent County Council (KCC) ignored the advice of its own advisers when it supported plans for weekly flights from Manston airport in east Kent to Virginia, USA.

Only 800 tickets were sold for the flights out of a possible 10,000 and the weekly charter, run by the Cosmos airline, was scrapped in February this year, just weeks before the service was due to begin.

Francis told Press Gazette that the request was a good example of how FoI can reveal the inner workings of politics.

"A lot of people in view of their council tax bills going up, have often expressed concerns about how their county council spends their money and this is an example of whether it's a good idea to invest in things like this when there is a squeeze on frontline services,"

he said.

"It's hard to imagine some of this stuff coming out before FoI. [This request] shows what decision-makers spending large amounts of money really did, instead of what they said they did."

The documents reveal how the council pressed ahead with the costly plans despite missing key deadlines that consultants said were "vital" in determining whether the scheme would be successful.

Consultants Freudmann Tipple were hired by KCC to conduct a feasibility study and recommended that tickets went on sale a year before the flights started. Because of a series of delays, tickets only became available seven months before flights began, despite repeated warnings.

KCC told the Kent Messenger that Cosmos had been "entirely happy" with the timescale and defended its decision to push ahead with the flights plan.

Last year another Messenger FoI request submitted by Francis found that KCC had spent around £50,000 on foreign trips for its Conservative cabinet members in 2005.

During a four-day trip to Virginia costing more than £6,000, councillors were invited to join "Virginian Indians at a Pow Wow meeting in order to negotiate their participation in an international festival at Gravesend".

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