Council under fire over £47,000 bill for tea and biscuits

AS taxpayer-funded freebies go this one really takes the biscuit. Coffee, tea and nibbles scoffed by councillors at functions, private meetings and hospitality events are costing the city purse around £15,000 a year, new figures have shown.

The total spend lavished on free biscuits and hot drinks at the City Chambers over the last three years comes in at a whopping £47,000 – and the figure is rising.

Campaigners today demanded the sweet-toothed authority rein in its outlay on “Hob Nobs” at a time when many councils are tightening their belts. But a council spokesman said every effort was made to secure the most “cost-effective options”.

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It is understood favoured brands include Jammie Dodgers, Rich Tea and digestive biscuits, custard creams, chocolate fingers and tea cakes.

Budget cuts at cash-strapped Edinburgh City Council include reducing funding for dozens of charitable organisations, making cuts to the city’s library services and a proposed loss of around 1200 public sector jobs. But that did not stop officials spending £46,992.62 on tea, coffee and biscuits for meetings and events, supplied by contractors Matthew Algae and wholesalers 3663, according to data released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The spending has increased by 26 per cent in the past year, going up from £13,834.80 in 2009-10 to £17,449.04 in 2011-12.

Marie Anderson, manager of the city’s Broomhouse Centre, which lost funding for a project to support adults with mental and physical health problems, said the council should be cutting costs.

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Mrs Anderson said: “We lost £3784 of council funding, which was very valuable to bring vulnerable people closer to the employment market.

“I think if charitable organisations are facing cuts then the council should look at ways to reduce their spending.

“Maybe cut out the free biscuits for a start.”

Emma Boon of Taxpayers Alliance Scotland said the costs should be kept “under control” by the council.

She said: “Whilst taxpayers might not mind the council offering tea and coffee to visitors, these costs should be kept under control. The council should try to keep the cost of internal meetings down. Cutting back on Hob Nobs isn’t going to save millions, but it shows the right attitude at a time when taxpayers are tightening their own belts.”

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A council spokesman said: “Any suggestion that this money is spent handing out free coffee, tea and biscuits would be completely wrong.

“They are used for meetings, events and hospitality organised by the council which employs 17,000 people.

“All possible procurement options are explored to secure the most cost-effective options.

“If the Dalai Lama or the First Minister pops in to see the chief executive and we offer them tea or coffee we don’t charge them £1.20 for the privilege. I’m sure the people of Edinburgh wouldn’t expect us to.”