Membership of The Ivy and over £5,000 in dining out costs were among the expenses claimed by the chief executive of the region’s screen media quango last year.
Suzie Norton, chief executive of Screen WM, which exists to support the film TV, games and interactive media sector in the area, claimed £12,500 in expenses in 12 months.
That figure included £5,365 on drinks, meals and lunches, £500 for membership of private members club The Ivy and £875 on taxis as well as gifts to other members of staff which included flowers, champagne and a spa.
The agency was forced to reveal its expenses in response to a Freedom of Information Act request put in by the West Midlands TaxPayers’ Alliance (WMTPA), an organisation which campaigns for lower taxes.
Fiona McEvoy, campaign agent for the alliance, said: “These are extravagant expenses, even by Parliamentary standards, especially as so much of this money has been spent on meals and drinks, with Ms Norton frequently eating out on the public purse.
“And how does all this late night schmoozing actually benefit ordinary families in the area?
“To many people in this region £12,500 is a salary in itself, but here it barely covers the chief executive’s ‘extras’, from attending film premieres to flights abroad and, of course, her membership of the exclusive Ivy Club in London.
“This is another public sector executive living the life of Riley on the taxpayer, seemingly rinsing her expenses to top up her bumper salary, and if you don’t like it you can’t even vote her out.”
However, Screen WM said the expenses claimed by Ms Norton – who is ranked number 18 on the Birmingham Post Power 50 out today – were justified because of the benefits the agency brought to the region.
A Screen WM spokeswoman said: “The CEO, Suzie Norton, is required to attend many meetings outside of the region, many of these in London.
“As we have no London office, Ivy Club membership allows us to use meeting rooms that represent good value for money over the period.
“We do not believe that the total business expenses are disproportionate to the amount of new business that Screen WM has brought to the region.
“This supports our mission to grow the economic, social and cultural wealth of the region.”
Since October 2007 Screen WM has invested £11.2 million in projects in the region through funding it has received from the National Lottery, delivered via the UK Film Council, regional development agency Advantage West Midlands and the European Regional Development Fund.
The agency said the amount of investment it had brought into the West Midlands from these bodies would be doubled owing to its match-funding policy which sees it invest alongside organisations such as the BBC or Channel 4.
“That means we’re bringing additional revenue back into the region,” the spokeswoman said.
Among the other figures on expenses revealed by the WMTPA, Screen WM spent £23,500 on hospitality last year and plans to spend over £7,000 on hospitality, events and entertainments over the next three months including a £5,000 “familiarisation trip”.
Screen WM said the trip is to bring location managers to the region to see potential filming sites.
The agency’s investments cover a variety of areas such as digital projects serving the public interest to initiatives celebrating the region’s film heritage.