Essex county councillors to vote on scrapping free meals for themselves

Free meals could be scrapped at County Hall.

Free meals could be scrapped at County Hall. - Credit: Lucy taylor

County councillors are due to vote tomorrow on whether to scrap free meals for themselves provided at full council meetings.

County councillors are due to vote today on whether to scrap free meals for themselves provided at full council meetings.

An independent review of expenses and allowances at County Hall, set to be debated at today’s meeting, recommended a slight increase in the basic allowances given to councillors but a cut to all of the payments made to more senior members, such as those in the cabinet or who lead opposition groups.

The remuneration panel also proposes scrapping all of the meal allowances provided to councillors when on official business within Essex, except for full council meetings – something opposition groups have been calling for since 2013.

However the ruling Conservative administration has said it will put forward an amendment to the report’s recommendations so the free meal provision is completely scrapped, and to reduce the increase in basic allowance to £500 instead of £612.

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The Tories have also pledged that the leader, deputy leader and cabinet members would continue to give up 3% of their allowances.

Altogether the proposed changes to expenses and allowances put forward, as amended by the Conservative group, would see the total bill cut by more than £40,000.

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David Finch, council leader and head of the Conservative group, said: “It is wholly wrong for us as councillors to accept any increases when all residents are hard-pressed with their own household budgets.

“Being a councillor, particularly a cabinet member, is a full-time job with members being in control of a multi-billion pound budget, and the current allowances reflect that hard work, but no more should be taken.”

During 2014/15 Essex County Council spent almost £16,000 on free meals for councillors.

Under the current provision, any councillor who attends County Hall undertaking “approved duties” – including attending council meetings – can claim a free three-course meal at the council’s restaurant.

In the 2014/15 financial year all but 12 of the authority’s 75 members claimed at least one meal.

The cost of the meals was highlighted by a number of the opposition groups at Essex County Hall in 2013, with calls for the provision to only be provided for a full day’s work at County Hall or to be replaced with a sandwich or cold option rather than a full hot dinner.

The changes would begin in January.

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