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Call to scrap free meals for councillors and their partners

April 5, 2010 7:00 AM
Dinner plate

Are free meals for councillors justified?

A Liberal Democrat proposal that free meals for councillors and their partners should be scrapped, has been criticised by Residents' Association councillors as liable to "diminish the civic life of the borough". Currently meals are served free of charge to councillors and their partners at two Civic events each year, the Mayor-making and the Mayor's Reception. The cost is met from the Mayor's allowance, which in turn is funded from the Council Tax.

The motion was proposed at a recent Council meeting by Cllr Jonathan Lees (Lib Dem). It was sent for debate at the Strategy & Resources committee, where Lib Dem councillor Colin Taylor argued that although the custom may have been justified in the past when councillors received only a nominal allowance, the time had come to recognise that with council staff on a pay freeze and residents hard pressed to pay their council tax, councillors could no longer justify free meals.

Liberal Democrat councillors do not attend the free meal served after Mayor-making and for at least the last 8 years they have paid for their meals when they attend the Civic reception.

Although no other council in Surrey makes a charge for meals at Civic events, many of them do not automatically invite all councillors to events where meals are served to Civic guests. Those that do so, generally only have one such event per year.

However Colin Taylor said that was not the main point. Cuts had been agreed in the Mayoral expenses for next year and he felt that it would be better to cut out free meals for councillors rather than cut out some of the mayor's visits to local voluntary organisations.

Some RA councillors said that although they also paid for their meals, they did not feel it should be a rule, but others felt it was a politically motivated attack on the civic life of the borough. It was decided to recommend to the Council that the proposal be forwarded to the Independent Remuneration Panel of lay people which reviews councillors' allowances.