It was supposed to be a bombshell revelation – an MP discovering a council axing thousands of jobs had lavished tens of thousands of pounds on a five star hotel and pizzas.
But Tory Paul Uppal inadvertently misquoted Wolverhampton City Council’s foreign spending figures, which actually referred to rupees rather than pounds sterling.
He had accused the council of having ‘lost control’ of the spending in a row that has been dubbed Pizzagate.
He got his figures from a website the council uses to publish its spending, which appeared to show it spent £1,428 at a Pizza Hut in India.
It turned out to be just £14 because of the enormous exchange rate difference between the two currencies.
The figure was wrongly recorded with a pound sign in front of it on the Spotlight on Spend website, where the council lists all its spending.
Listen to the audio of the interview here:
The MP said it called into question the reliability of the council’s data and the authority has said it would the correct the website.
The council confirmed the figures for the Indian trade mission were recorded in rupees, which have an exchange rate of 0.0097 to a pound.
Mr Uppal, Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West, claimed in a live radio interview that the council spent £70,000 at the Westin Pune Koregaon Park in October last year. The council says this was 70,000 rupees and that the cost at the time came to £723.80.
Half of this was covered by the University of Wolverhampton and the money was then spent to host a reception.
The four-day £10,000 trade mission involved the council, Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership and the University of Wolverhampton and was set up to boost export links with India.
The row comes as councillors tonight prepare to vote on £123 million of cuts over the next five years and 2,000 job losses to cope with multi-million pound cuts in government funding.
The MP was taken to task by the council’s leader and fellow MP Pat McFadden today after he revealed the spending figures on the Pete Morgan breakfast show on BBC Radio WM.
The radio station later came up with the nickname Pizzagate.
Mr Uppal said the council spent £1,428 in a Pizza Hut in India. The council confirmed this was also in rupees and the bill was around £14 .
How the row spilled on to Twitter
After the error was pointed out Mr Uppal said: “How many other errors would be recorded like this? It makes me question the reliability of the council’s data.”
The council said the cash withdrawals may have been used by social workers looking after vulnerable children and adults with learning disabilities while the alcoholic drinks would have been mainly bought by the Civic Halls to sell at gigs and club nights.
Council leader Roger Lawrence said: “We are talking about a relatively small amount of money here that was funded by something called UK Trade and Industry which is actually part of the Government.”
Wolverhampton South East Labour MP Pat McFadden added: “The list Mr Uppal has produced to suggest the council’s financial problems are its own fault has crumbled into dust.”
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