THE bill for tea, coffee and biscuits at the city council over the past 12 months totalled more than £48,000 – with chief executive Sue Bruce’s department alone spending the equivalent of £28 a day.
Committee conveners and the political parties at the City Chambers ran up refreshment costs of £37,000 this year – £5000 over budget – while top officials racked up another £11,040.
Costs have come down significantly over the years and we are rigorous in reviewing this area to ensure that the spend is appropriate to business needs.”Alasdair Rankin
The figures were revealed after Conservative councillor Jeremy Balfour, who is convener of the council’s best value committee, asked for a breakdown of how much each committee convener and council director had splashed out on refreshments.
The bill covers tea, coffee and biscuits for meetings with outside individuals or groups, sandwiches for lunchtime meetings and a hot buffet for councillors on full council days.
The internal catering for the chief executive over the past year came to £7419.54; director of corporate governance £633.50; director of children and families £1168.75; director of economic development £576.45; director of health and social care £209.45; and director of services for communities £1032.55.
But the council said spending on food and drink had been reduced significantly in recent years.
Thirty years ago councillors could have a free three-course meal in the City Chambers dining room any working day, with grander “slap up” lunches – complete with top table – on the days of council meetings.
Yesterday’s full council meeting, by comparison, saw councillors offered a plate of three-cheese pasta in the members’ lounge.
One council veteran said the lavish catering had been provided at a time when councillors received expenses but no salary and had gradually disappeared as their remuneration improved.
Cllr Balfour said he was disappointed there was no breakdown of how much each party or individual convener had spent on refreshments, in the way separate figures were provided for the different council departments.
He said: “For the size of organisation, this is probably not over-extravagant.
“Many people will think it is a lot of money, but you have to recognise the council is hosting literally hundreds of meetings a year and it’s right that when someone comes in they are offered a cup of tea. That’s common courtesy.
“However, we need to look at changing the system so each party and each convener has their own billing number and at the end of the year we can see how much people are spending, as we can with the directors.”
Details of the council’s catering bill come as the authority struggles to cope with a spending squeeze. Funding cuts for basic services, including public toilets, leisure centres and white-line painting on playing fields, together with planned job losses, increased home care charges and higher parking fees, come as the city bids to save £22 million over the coming financial year and £67m by 2017-18.
Finance convener Councillor Alasdair Rankin defended the biscuit bill. He said: “Catering is not automatically provided. Occasionally it is required when councillors host meetings with third parties and of course at council meetings where breaks can’t be planned.
“Costs have come down significantly over the years and we are rigorous in reviewing this area to ensure that the spend is appropriate to business needs.”
Honesty box ‘fail’
SANDWICHES and hot soup used to be laid on for councillors taking midday breaks between meetings.
But the free lunches were scrapped in 2007 in a bid to save £45,000 a year and an honesty box was introduced.
Councillors were trusted to pay £1.50 into the box for sandwiches and £1 for a bowl of soup served with a crusty roll. However, figures released under freedom of information revealed that, while councillors munched their way through £2355 worth of food in four months, only £1526 was collected in the box.
After just over a year the scheme was scrapped and councillors told to make do with tea and coffee.