Council spent £42k on a special media team

Bicester Advertiser: Andrew Smith MP Andrew Smith MP

SPIN doctors were hired at a cost of £42,000 to help Oxfordshire County Council handle the Oxford grooming gang scandal.

The authority spent the cash bringing in public relations consultants following the abuse of children in its care – despite having a £744k annual budget for its own communications department.

Thames Valley Police spent £300 on external media.

The county council says it needed the support due to the serious nature of the case and huge media interest, but critics have said the money was wasted on trying to make the council look better. The £42,664 was paid to Westminster Council, trading under the name Westco, for support over an 18-month period in the run up to, during and after the trial which last year saw seven men convicted of grooming, drugging and abusing girls in care over eight years.

The spend was revealed after a Freedom of Information Act request by the Oxford Mail and it comes as the Conservative authority tries to save £93m over the next four years.

The mother of one of the gang’s victims, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said “What a wicked waste of public money. The money would be much better spent improving their children’s services.”

Oxford East MP Andrew Smith, pictured, said he could understand why the council thought it needed extra help while in the national spotlight.

But he said the council should have admitted spending the money earlier, adding: “It is bound to raise questions about whether they spent this money to present the council in the best possible light.”

Council spokesman Owen Morton said: “The council needed some additional support and expertise to respond to the intense media interest, including from virtually all national media outlets.”

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