By a Newsnet reporter
The leader of Aberdeen council is embroiled in a fresh controversy after it emerged he had flown all the way to Japan to attend a conference for only ninety minutes.
According to the Press & Journal newspaper, Labour councillor Barney Crockett flew over 5,600 miles in order to attend the event, but spent more time site-seeing and dining out.
The trip, which was intended be used to promote the city and the use of Hydrogen energy, saw Mr Crockett and three others attend the International Hydrogen and Fuel Expo conference.
Prior to the sanctioning of the trip, councillors had received a report which claimed the conference would be “so large” that council representation was “essential”. However the itinerary revealed that only an hour and a half had been set aside for attendance.
The trip had been supported by the SNP group on the council, however after reviewing the actions of the four-man group over the three days, SNP group leader Callum McCaig said the trip bore “all the hallmarks of a jolly”.
Mr McCaig said:
“We were told that the trip would promote Aberdeen and the hydrogen economy however this does not seem to have been high on the agenda. With only 90 minutes of meetings scheduled and lots of sightseeing and dining out everyone will be rightly questioning why the Council Leader thought it was appropriate for him to go on the trip.
“Indeed, when challenged directly on television, Councillor Crockett specifically denied that he was on a jolly, and claimed he was working flat out for the city. It is now clear that this was absolutely not the case, and it is clear that he appeared to think nobody would find out the truth.
“Councillor Crockett appears to have become very fond of overseas travel, like when he wastefully flew to New York to collect an award for an arms-length body and now he has gone to Japan for 90 minutes of meetings. Whilst Councillor Crockett was away in Japan Councillor Young was at COSLA voting against Aberdeen and giving away £7.5 million. Only because of an intervention by John Swinney will Aberdeen’s missing millions be reconsidered by COSLA in April.
“This is yet another example of how the Council Leader and Finance Convenor are mismanaging this council. They rejected £7.5 million for Aberdeen, created a secret unofficial ministerial ban, printed tax-payer paid no-campaign letters, and now more questionable foreign travel. All of this adds up to an out of control leadership which this city can no longer afford.”
The delegation visited several places of interest and tourist attractions including a cruise to Gunkanjima and Shindenan. Mr Crockett also enjoyed dinner with the mayor of Nagasaki, chairman of the city council, Nagasaki Rotary Club and the Japanese-British Society of Nagasaki at the Koyotei resaurant.
Mr McCaig added: “It is full of visits, wining and dining at a cost that would be beyond the means of most Aberdonians.”
However the Labour councillor hit back and accused his SNP opponents of trying to smear him and claimed he had been at the conference for a lot more than an hour and a half.
“I am surprised that the SNP are complaining about this. One of the positive factors of the visit to Japan was the way that we worked with Scottish Development International. It was very constructive and we did exceptionally well. I think it was important to have a political presence. We have seen how important it is to demonstrate the commitment of the political leadership.” he said.
“This is just more of the smear and bullying tactics we are seeing from the SNP, and they are trying to personalise it. But if I think something is right for the city then I will do it.”
The row is the latest to hit the Aberdeen Labour group after another Labour councillor tried to ban Scottish Government ministers from council premises.
It has also emerged that Mr Crocket is facing an investigation by the Public Spending Watchdog, Audit Scotland, after he was accused of misusing public cash by having pro-Union messages printed on leaflets to be sent out to local authority residents.