SCOTLAND'S largest local authority has launched an investigation into expenses claimed by senior directors after a series of freedom of information requests by the Sunday Herald uncovered evidence that thousands of pounds were spent on foreign trips.

In the last four years Glasgow City Council bosses flew to London, Brussels, Berlin, Helsinki, Paris, Cannes, New York, Orlando, Detroit, Toronto, Auckland and Seoul, often staying at top hotels and claiming for the cost of pricey meals.

Council sources revealed cash has been paid back following the Sunday Herald’s Freedom of Information request, but the local authority said details could not be revealed until they have fully investigated spending.

One well-placed council source said there is now a “desire to clean things up” at Glasgow City Council and “no one is going to protect" anyone now.

The cash-strapped local authority is in the grip of a funding crisis with a budget gap of £20m, and council tax paid by people who live in the city is set to rise by three per cent.

Council staff are overseen by Chief Executive Annemarie O’Donnell and a small team of directors paid more than £100,000 each. Overseas trips must be authorised by O’Donnell but the council said “approval is not always made in writing” so the council does not always hold written records.

Directors can claim for travel, hotel costs, conference fees, meals and taxi fares, and receive currency advances for unexpected expenses. Unspent currency must be paid back within seven days of returning from a trip.

The local authority provided the Sunday Herald with a list of expenses claimed by senior management in the last four years following a Freedom of Information request. It is understood the investigation is centred on spending by Executive Director of Development and Regeneration Services Richard Brown, who is currently on leave, and Assistant Director Tom Turley, who is running the department.

Council insiders are believed to be unhappy about some of the claims which include the cost of business class flights, first class train fares and top hotels in foreign cities. There was also spending that is not supported by receipts, according to sources at the City Chambers.

One source, who asked not to be named, said: “There is an ongoing investigation which covers two chief officers.”

When the Sunday Herald formally requested further information about how much has been paid back to the council following the initial Freedom of Information request, the local authority said they could not reveal figures.

The latest FoI response, which came from the council’s executive compliance office in the financial services department, said: “Release of information relevant to these investigations at this time would have a significantly disruptive effect…we believe that there is a real risk that the effectiveness of the investigation would be critically undermined by disclosure of some of the information you have requested. This would be to the material detriment of the effectiveness of improving an organisation’s operations, processes and policies.”

The statement went on to recognise the public interest in disclosing details about which directors paid back money, how much was paid back and when it was paid back, but the statement said there is also “a significant public interest in allowing internal investigations to take place” and the release of information was blocked.

The Sunday Herald has chosen not to publish a breakdown of spending by senior directors until the investigation concludes. A council spokesman said: “It wouldn’t be appropriate to comment on an ongoing investigation.”