A TEAM of Staffordshire County Council bosses spent £3,500 of tax-payers cash on a trip to Russia on a fact-finding mission.
The week-long visit to Ivanovo, to share information on public health and business opportunities, included council leader Philip Atkins.
But Councillor Atkins has rushed to defend the visit amid concerns from a worried member of public that the trip was nothing more than a council “jolly” and raised questions about what Stafford could learn from Russia.
The authority has longstanding links with Ivanovo and shares information, best practice and ideas on public services, developing business, education and cultural links. The partnership was first established in 1999 after glasnost and perestroika opened up Russia to outside influence.
Councillor Atkins led a small group, which also included director of public health Aliko Ahmed, Jackie Wood from Abbot Beyne High School in Burton, and Mike Whitlow from Burton Albion Football Club, which has links with Tekstilschik Ivanovo who play in the Russian Second Division.
The authority paid for travel and visa costs while the Russian hosts paid for all accommodation and other costs in Russia. Councillor Atkins said: “For the very modest cost of £3,500 the recent trip built on and strengthened our relationship with the Ivanovo region which now features links between Staffordshire’s schools, older people in one of our day centres and community work with sports clubs such as Burton Albion.
“Russia is also an important export market, for national and Staffordshire’s major employers such as JCB and other local businesses, so it benefits our economy and local jobs now and in the future to forge closer ties with the country.”
Councillor Atkins said in the autumn the Shire Hall would host an exhibition of rare Russian artwork from Ivanovo, called Palekh, which had previously toured Germany and Italy.