NORTH Ayrshire Council has spent over £160,000 entering and hosting awards ceremonies over the past five years, the Times can reveal.

In documents obtained through Freedom of Information Requests, the full extent of spending has been revealed, with over £8,000 alone being spent attending the ceremony which saw the council named ‘Council of the Year’.

This was more than double the amount spent attending the previous year.

A total of £161,523 was spent between 2012 and 2017, covering both internal awards ceremonies and external bashes.

But the council has defended the spending saying that winning awards and receiving recognition is ‘a proven motivator’.

Over the five years, just under £60,000 was spent internally hosting awards, such as the annual North Ayrshire Achieves, which is held in the Greenwood Conference Centre.

And the total would be higher still if not for sponsorship received for the awards.

The £59,353 total includes £10,897 spent on ‘recognition’ lunches and long service awards, education awards and Health and Social Care Partnership Staff Awards.

External awards, excluding the last two years of entering the APSE Council of Year Awards, total £89,042.

Back in 2016, Independent Councillor Ronnie McNicol asked for a review of spending on awards bashes, but his motion was defeated.

At the time, then SNP Leader of North Ayrshire Council, Willie Gibson, said that awards had helped the council save £900,000 in staff absences and provided a morale boost to its employees.

The leader of the North Ayrshire Council’s Conservative Group has hit out at the spending but has also said there is a more worrying matter of money spent in preparation of a bid to buy a building in Irvine, believed to be the town’s Rivergate Shopping Centre, which he claims cost in the region of £500,000.

Cllr Tom Marshall said: “While it is good that North Ayrshire does showcase its good practice to the wider world one must question the worth of so much money being spent on so many award ceremonies. Does £161,000 represent good value for the Council Tax payer. How many classroom assistants can we save for this money. How many care at home packages can be supplied Who actually notices that these awards have been won.

“Who gains from this?

“Certainly some of the attendees do. Why spend over £16,000 on sending 19 council officers to pick up an award in 2017. Would two not have sufficed? Also in 2016 it appears that when two officers did go on a day trip to London to collect an award, their expenses were almost £3,000 for the day.

“Elected councillors do not have control over these expenses - they seem to be spent from some unknown fund by unaccountable persons.

“Of even greater concern is the very larger sum of money that allegedly was recently spent by Officers of the Council on preparation for an abortive bid to purchase a large property in Irvine. Neither the process nor the sum spent had been authorised by all Elected Members. It is alleged that the sum spent was well over £500,000. What would this buy in terms of classroom assistants or care packages? Perhaps a FOI or a question to the Council may eventually reveal the true sum.

“The Conservatives believe that any supposed reward or profit on such investments are greatly outweighed by the risk given the state of the retail shopping market. So we voted against the proposal and in so doing ensured that the Council Tax payer was not potentially saddled with huge debts.

“Our philosophy is small government matched by low taxes and controlled spending.”

A North Ayrshire Council spokesperson said: “Motivated employees deliver higher quality and more efficient services. Staff recognition is a proven motivator, and awards form a key part of our staff recognition approach.

“All our staff surveys have confirmed that staff benefit from being recognised for the quality and value of their work. As well as regularly thanking staff, our internal programme allows for recognition and sharing good practice. 

“The external awards allow us to demonstrate the good work they do to a much wider audience.

“Our teams have been going through huge changes, often driven by the need to save money, and during this transformational period have adapted and worked incredibly hard to deliver the best possible services to communities across North Ayrshire. We are incredibly proud of them and feel that it’s only right to celebrate their achievement. They have helped the Council deliver over £50m of efficiency savings over the past five years. By way of contrast the annual spend on awards equates to around £4 per member of staff.

“Entering awards is also a clear way to evaluate the effectiveness of projects, against leading organisations in both the public and private sectors, and allows you to learn from best practice elsewhere. Ongoing success in awards creates a winning culture and motivates employees to go the extra mile in delivering better services and greater cost savings. It also enhances the Council’s reputation, helping us to recruit the best candidates.

“We have won numerous awards, most notably when we were named ASPE’s Council of the Year 2017. Not only is that a fantastic boost to staff but lifts the profile of the area and, ultimately, could bring new investment into North Ayrshire.”