A COUNCIL has defended flying officials is by business class to Tokyo after coming under fire from a taxpayers’ watchdog.

The TaxPayers’ Allliance today singles out Sunderland City Council as one of the “dubious examples” for spending on flights, after research found the authority had paid £26,583 for six business class flights to the Japanese capital in the past three years.

The bill forms part of a total of £128,000 the authority paid for flights from January 2015 to February this year.

A report by the TPA unveiled today reveals a total air travel bill of more than 370,000 for the region during the same period.

John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “For many families, council tax is the largest monthly bill to pay, and it’s shocking that their hard-earned money is being misspent by some local authorities in this way.

“These local authorities need to find millions in savings in the coming years and with modern technology like video conferencing they needn’t spend large sums of taxpayers’ money on plane tickets.”

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council said: “These figures reflect our city’s international reach with more than £500m of foreign investment and more than 4,000 new jobs in the last five years from international companies.

“The council also has a policy with flights of eight hours or more, such as to Japan, allowing for business class travel.

“This is based on the duty of care the city council has for its employees and members, the most advantageous cost and for anyone travelling to be in a position to carry out their duties effectively on arrival.”

He added: “In case anyone has forgotten, Sunderland has more than 26,202 jobs in 87 internationally-owned companies originating from 20 different countries.

“This includes 12 Japanese companies who employ more than 11,335 staff. Once again, the alliance can count a cost but not recognise value for money.”

Newcastle City Council spent almost £90,000, Gateshead £18,000, Redcar and Cleveland £3,764, Middlesbrough about £6,000, Hartlepool 1,290, Stockton 6,915, Darlington £5,868, York 9,960 and North Yorkshire £2,619.

The North-East’s biggest council, Durham spent nearly £20,000.

Durham County Council corporate director of resources John Hewitt said: “We are always cautious about travel expenses and try to avoid such costs wherever possible.

“Although we do not book flights regularly, in some circumstances they are the most appropriate and cost-effective way to travel.

“Many of these flights were paid for by third parties including through EU funding, and we do all we can to get the best possible rates at the time of booking.”

Richmond and Hambleton paid for no flights. South Tyneside did not respond.