A SERVICE which helps Oxford’s most vulnerable people was closed for 24 hours so staff could go on an away day at a four-star hotel and take a boat trip down the Thames.

Oxford City Council’s housing needs team, which supplies frontline help to homeless people, closed down for a day last summer while staff enjoyed a team quiz and river trip.

Information was leaked to the Oxford Mail after we reported an NHS meeting and study day in Oxford cost the taxpayer £12,000.

The council department, which deals with the most vulnerable people in Oxford, transferred the service to an out-of-hours emergency-only mobile phone line.

The group then had a training day at a four-star hotel before enjoying a trip down the Thames from Oxford to Abingdon.

Last night the council defended the decision to send 50 staff on the away day, at a cost of almost £2,000.

A spokesman said: “Away days are extremely useful in involving the team in service planning and team training exercises.

“They also help build morale in a frontline team which delivers excellent performance in very difficult circumstances, to some of the most vulnerable residents of the city.”

One city council worker, who did not wish to be named, said: “Why couldn’t they have used the Town Hall for the day?

“It’s not as much as some local authorities are spending, but it does seem a bit of a waste of money.”

The day started with tea and coffee at the Four Pillars Hotel in Abingdon Road followed by a session on achievements over the past year and priorities for the year ahead.

The group then moved on to four training sessions on safeguarding children, domestic abuse, improving access to training and work opportunities, and a new online staff procedure manual.

The city council spokesman said the total cost was £1,860.

She added: “A boat was hired from Salters Steamers, at a cost of £670, with a buffet lunch provided by a voluntary sector organisation, the WI, at a cost of £600.

“The boat went part way to Abingdon and back.

“There was a team-building exercise and a team quiz on the way down river. On the way back, there was a pay-bar on board. The council did not pay the cost of any alcohol, although staff were then free to buy some if they wanted to.”

She said: “We sometimes look at holding away days on different sites as we find our staff are better able to review the service when at a different location to their day-to-day work. This also avoids interruptions.

“Away days are usually a mix of hard work and team-building activities.”

NOT FOR THE FIRST TIME In March the Oxford Mail revealed transport chiefs at Oxfordshire County Council spent more than £4,500 on a meeting and overnight stay at Heythrop Park resort, near Enstone.

County education chiefs were last month accused of wasting taxpayers’ money on hotel rooms for a £63,000 conference in Stratford-upon-Avon.

West Oxfordshire, Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire said it had no plans for similar away days. The city council and Cherwell District Council had not responded on the issue at the time of going to press.