A TRIP to Latvia for five Greenwich Council bigwigs costing more than £5,500 of taxpayers' money has been labelled an "appalling jolly" in a time of widespread cuts.
The Tall Ship conference in Riga saw Greenwich Council leader Councillor Chris Roberts joined by chief executive Mary Ney; director of culture, sport and media Katrina Delaney and two other high-ranking officials.
Flights and accommodation cost £1,143.10 each for the two-day global International Sail Training and Tall Ships conference from November 16 to 17.
A Greenwich Council spokesman said the conference built on the success of Sail Royal Greenwich this summer which brought 14 Tall Ships to Greenwich and attracted 12,000 people and 1,500 business hospitality visitors.
The council says it hopes to hold a regatta in 2014 and has bid to be a host port for the Tall Ships Race in 2016.
Speaking about the trip, Greenwich branch secretary for Unite Onay Kasab said: "It is ridiculous. It smacks of a beano. A jolly on the firm. I am gob-smacked.
"At a time of austerity when we have members fearing for their jobs, three year pay freezes, it is absolutely appalling and horrendous that the council can find the money for this trip.
"It is really appalling and the question has to be asked - what are the people of Greenwich going to get out of this trip?
"This kind of tourism is not going to save the cuts. It is a myth that tourism is going to be ploughed back into those services being cut.
"It is complete and utter nonsense."
Conservative leader Cllr Spencer Drury added: "It seems completely excessive.
"I am a big fan of the tall ships but the idea is to bring money in not cost us money. I can’t understand why they couldn’t have got someone to sponsor them going.
"I would have thought there would be businesses that would be prepared to sponsor them."
Greenwich Council statement
A Greenwich Council spokesman said: “The conference is the only event of its kind, and presented a unique opportunity to promote the borough and its attractions to a global audience of Tall Ships Operators and to meet with other ports.
“It provided an opportunity to study and learn from other host ports the requirements of hosting regattas and races on a large scale.
“As a result of attendance at the conference, contact was made with Tall Ship Operators and the potential for further visits was discussed.
“A number of Ship Operators are already following this up and planning to come to the Royal Borough. In addition, a proposal is being developed to hold a Tall Ships Regatta in Royal Greenwich in 2014 and Greenwich’s bid to be a host port for the Tall Ships Race in 2016 was also promoted.
“It is planned that these future events will provide opportunities for Greenwich young people to experience sailing and develop their skills.”
He added that tourism provides more than 6,000 jobs in Greenwich, delivers £3/4 billion to the economy and developing the borough as the home for Tall Ships in London would be an excellent boost to this sector of the economy.