Top councillors accepted England Euros tickets on taxpayer-funded visit to Germany

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Kemp and his deputy, Karen Kilgour, were at England's 2024 match against Slovakia
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images / ChronicleLive)

Top Labour figures in Newcastle accepted tickets to England’s Euro 2024 match with Slovakia on a taxpayer-funded trip to Germany.

Council leader Nick Kemp and his deputy, Karen Kilgour, were in Gelsenkirchen last week as part of a delegation invited to one of Newcastle’s twin cities. It has been confirmed that the pair were at the Arena AufSchalke on Sunday, alongside a council officer and a group of children from Walker Riverside Academy, to see Jude Bellingham and Harry Kane’s goals complete a dramatic comeback that sent the Three Lions into the quarter finals.

Newcastle City Council said that the visit was a “fantastic opportunity” to help prepare for the staging of Euro 2028 games at St James’ Park and that, while it paid travel and accommodation costs for the Newcastle delegation, the match tickets were a gift from counterparts in Gelsenkirchen. The city’s Lib Dem opposition called for “clarity” on the cost of the trip for Newcastle taxpayers, which remains unknown at this stage.

The council said it received the invite to Gelsenkirchen in December 2023 and confirmed attendance in January, adding that the Euros match tickets were already held by the city of Gelsenkirchen for dignitaries and were not specifically purchased for guests from Newcastle. The draw for Euro 2024 was made on December 2 last year, after which point it was known that England would play in Gelsenkirchen in the round of 16 on June 30 if they finished top of their group stage.

Asked whether the extra costs of travelling to Germany during a major tournament were considered in deciding whether to accept the invitation, the council told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that it was “entirely relevant to attend during the Euros as a main part of the trip was to understand the logistics of hosting the tournament”. A Newcastle City Council spokesperson added: “Newcastle was one of many twinned cities from across the world that visited Gelsenkirchen last week as part of a programme of civic events organised by the city as they host the Euro 2024 tournament.

"We had the honour of celebrating the 75th anniversary of the twinning of our two cities last year and the visit was part of an ongoing commitment to international relationships that ultimately benefit residents in two cities which share a proud industrial heritage. Newcastle has the honour of hosting matches as part of the Euro 2028 tournament, so the visit was also a fantastic opportunity for us to understand the hard work that goes into hosting the tournament.”

Coun Colin Ferguson, the council’s Lib Dem opposition leader, said it was “essential that the local Labour administration comes clean on where the funding for the leader and deputy leader's trip to Gelsenkirchen has come from”. He added: “Clarity is particularly important because of the revelation that they attended the weekend's England match. Maintaining good relationships with our twin cities is important, but attending football matches at taxpayer expense is not. I hope that's not the case, and that it can be clearly demonstrated that this trip was always about business, with no cost to the taxpayer for tickets or hospitality.

Harry Kane celebrates with Jude Bellingham after scoring their side's second goal of the game
Harry Kane celebrates with Jude Bellingham after scoring their side's second goal of the game -Credit:Bradley Collyer/PA Wire

"Residents expect their political leaders to do their jobs, and I hope that important meetings weren't missed at home for anything other than vital business that couldn't have been done at any other time. Otherwise, the spectacle of the Labour leadership travelling to Gelsenkirchen at its most expensive will stick in the throats of the many England fans who have had no choice but to sit at home to watch the national team."

The city council’s register of gifts and hospitality was updated this week to include the match ticket, the estimated value of which is listed only as being above £50. Other items declared by Coun Kemp as gifts from the Lord Mayor of Gelsenkirchen’s office include two dinners, four guided tours, and a trip to the local Euro 2024 fanzone.

The long-serving Byker councillor, who missed a scrutiny hearing last week where he was due to be questioned on his annual report to the council as a result of the Germany visit, said: “I am proud of our international links across the world. They are vital for sharing cultures, expanding business, and improving education. Our connection with Gelsenkirchen is one of Newcastle’s oldest arrangements and I am pleased that the pupils from Walker Riverside have had the chance to experience this great city.

“We are very similar cities, with a proud industrial past, and it was great to learn from our international colleagues and build relationships that will benefit our own city in the future. This included conversations about our emerging regional industrial strategy. I would like to thank our German friends for the invite and their hospitality, we look forward to returning the gesture in the future.”