Thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money was used to fund trips for Surrey County Council officials to watch maths being taught in China and to speak at an American conference on Victorian periodicals, among other things.

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Figures obtained by the Epsom Guardian from the Freedom of Information Act show the council spent more than £6,300 on overseas trips for staff between November 2011 and December 2014.

Epsom Guardian:

Madrid, which a council officer visited in November 2011

In September 2014 it sent a project archivist from Surrey History Centre to Delaware in the United States to present a paper on the Lushington family to the Conference of the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals.

Accommodation cost the council £292.69 - and it also paid a conference fee of about £60.

Epsom Guardian:

Riga, Latvia, which was visited by officers in September 2012

And in February that year, 10 councillors on the planning committee and a planning and development control manager spent £2,512.40 on flights to Bergamo, Italy, and £93.30 while visiting a waste facility there for one day.

The purpose of the trip was training and familiarisation to prepare the committee ahead of a development in north-west Surrey.

The council also spent more than £2,800 in a three-year period on networking events, conferences and EU meetings in Brussels, Bruges, Lille, Maastricht, Dortmund, Poznan and Warsaw.

In April 2014 it also sent an officer and the cabinet member for schools to Shanghai to observe how maths is taught in Chinese schools, although the £1,520 for flights and accommodation were paid for through an HSBC grant.

The schools also paid for the pair’s meals over the week.

The council said: "Meals were paid for by Chinese schools as per their hospitality culture.

"It would have been an insult to refuse or offer to pay."

The TaxPayers’ Alliance slammed the council, calling on councillors to tighten their belts amid central Government cuts.

Political director Dia Chakravarty said: "Some trips abroad may be necessary but it seems like the council could have saved taxpayers' money on some of these flights.

"Budgets are under pressure and local politicians must ensure that every pound of taxpayers' money is focused on providing essential service to local residents."

The council defended itself by saying value for money is at the centre of everything it does.

A Surrey County Council spokesman said: "On occasions when trips abroad are made it is a matter of weighing up the long-term benefits with the cost.

"Wherever possible, trips are wholly or partially paid for by external funding and others are made as part of a legal duty, for example to children in care.

"All requests for trips will continue to be carefully checked at a senior level on a case by case basis to ensure they represent value for money."

Since November 2011, 32 of 48 trips abroad were paid for entirely by Surrey County Council.