A Freedom of Information Request made by The Chronic reveals that 2,864 free meals were snaffled by Cllr’s at Essex County Council during 2013/14.
Meanwhile users of Meals on Wheels throughout the County have had to suffer a 25p reduction in the value of their food subsidy.
Some of the top chompers over in Chelmsford include Cllr’s who don’t hold a Cabinet position.
Conservative Cllr John Aldridge ate 138 free meals last year; his Tory colleague Cllr Ann Naylor notched up 116 freebies, whilst fellow Conservative Cllr Glyn Walter ate 107 meals for free.
The Tory Group also claimed the top two positions.
Topping our Tuck In chart was Cllr Rodney Bass. The Cabinet member for Highways had 140 free meals at the expense of the Council Tax payer.
His fellow Cabinet member Cllr Kay Twitchen enjoyed 110 free meals.
Our FoI asked who is entitled to a free meal at County Hall:
“The members allowance scheme states that a meal will only be provided when attending at County Hall to undertake Approved Duties.”
We then asked for an example of the average menu. It sounds rather tasty to be honest:
“Soup; fish and chips or scampi and chips; bread and butter pudding; fruit juice, tea or coffee.”
And what is the actual value of this meal?
“The cost of a meal is £6.95, including a non-alcoholic drink. On days when Full Council is scheduled the charge rises to £9.95 because of the additional staffing and additional costs.”
Which is not extortionate.
It is also not out of the question for Cllr’s to be able to afford to pay for this out of their own pocket.
Plus we’re not quite sure why a meal for Cllr is worth £6.95, whilst Meals on Wheels users are provided with a meal that is priced at £4.20.
The budget for this freebie meal services is Democratic Representation.
We did snigger when we first read this.
We’re not denying that the ECC canteen is a useful place for Cllr’s to informally network and perhaps even develop some policy. But paying for a meal should be part of this process.
Plus a Cabinet role is pretty much a full time job – at least the allowance would seem to suggest that.
But then most residents in the County who work full time are expected to pay the price for their own lunch. At best some employers may be able to offer up a subsidised work canteen.
Leader of the Labour Group Cllr Julie Young told The Chronic:
“The Labour Group wanted to increase the adult social care budget by £66,000 to reverse the 25p subsidy cut brought in last autumn.”
The Chronic tried to approach this blog post with an objective analysis of the rather generous ‘allowances’ that ECC Cllr’s are given, and not focus on the greedy angle.
But bugger it.
The Tory Group at Chelmsford is cutting the allowance for Adult Social Care. This includes a 25p reduction for the meals service provided for some of the most vulnerable residents in the community.
Meanwhile some of the leading Cabinet members at ECC are eating their way through a freebie meal at County Hall, all paid for by the Council Tax payer.
Like we said – the objectivity didn’t last long. But it is hypocrisy of the highest order to reduce the fund for meals for needy residents, whilst continuing to chomp away in the ECC canteen.
It’s not as if the Cllr’s can’t afford to feed themselves.
A Cabinet member at ECC is very generously given an ‘allowance’ of £35,310 per year. This is on top of their allowance of £11,500 as a jobbing Division Cllr.
The amount spent on Member’s Catering has shown a rise over the past three years. We’re actually surprised that such a blatant example of Cllr greed is so overtly referenced in the Budget papers.
£31,360 was spent on food for Cllr’s in 2012/13.
This figure had risen to £32,3335 for 2013/14.
The estimate for 2014/15 is £28,465.
The 2015/16 budget has the amount back up at £35,900.
Meanwhile back in the real world and the cost of food is apparently going down.
In September 2014 ECC announced:
“Back in May ECC launched a consultation into the future Meals on Wheels service as a response to the financial pressures facing the council and a falling number of service users.
The consultation feedback showed that the service users did not want to lose the service and believed that a full removal of the subsidy would result in the service being unaffordable.
As a result of this feedback, ECC has taken the decision not to remove the subsidy but to increase the cost of meals to service users to £4.20 – an increase of only 25p.”
Cllr Anna Brown, the Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care chipped in:
“I am delighted that we have been able to protect this service. Ultimately this is good news for Meals on Wheels service users and shows that we have truly listened to consultation feedback.”
Our Freedom of Information request shows that Cllr Ann Brown manager to blag 90 FREE meals for 2013/14.
And so the message is that ECC will carry on with the cuts to residents, but also continue to offer FREE meals for Cllr’s – on top of their already generous allowances.
Plus it’s worth giving a plug here for futuregov’s casseroleclub solution.
An ACE idea, although as ever, we’re slightly weary of this third sector model of stepping in when localgov fails.
Or is just plain GREEDY when it comes to free food.