Taxpayers footed �2,500 bill for councillors' meal

A LOCAL politician has called for an urgent review after it emerged that taxpayers in Colchester had footed a �2,500 bill for a councillors' gourmet meal.

Roddy Ashworth

A LOCAL politician has called for an urgent review after it emerged that taxpayers in Colchester had footed a �2,500 bill for a councillors' gourmet meal.

Kim Naish said that in future any councillor who attended the annual civic lunch - to which all 60 members of Colchester Borough Council are invited - should pay their own way.

The sumptuous meal, which is served in the town hall every May after the borough's Mayor Making ceremony, this year cost the council �2,580, which included around �500 spent on supplying the diners with free wine and drinks.

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Only councillors and senior officers were invited to the three-course gourmet lunch, which was prepared by high-class company Talbooth Catering with wine supplied by expert vintners Wheeler Cellars.

The meal is one of Colchester's three major annual civic events, alongside the annual opening of the oyster fishery - in which councillors eat a seafood lunch on a Maldon barge moored in Pyefleet creek - and the famous Colchester Oyster Feast, a five-course banquet with music and speeches held in the town's Moot Hall.

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However, in order to attend the latter events councillors and guests have to purchase tickets to help cover the costs.

Yesterday Colchester Borough councillor Mr Naish - who did not attend this year's Mayor Making lunch on principle - said that he would sooner see pensioners from the borough receive a free meal than politicians.

“This is nothing more than a jolly for councillors. It is a disgrace, especially in today's economic climate when people are concerned about their jobs,” he said yesterday.

“Everybody has been up in arms about MPs' expenses, but here in Colchester back-slapping councillors are spending taxpayers' money on a no-questions-asked slap-up meal, with free drink to boot.

“I think the councillors should pay for it, and if they don't like the idea there's a McDonald's right opposite the town hall,” he added.

Mr Naish, who is a member of the council's Mayoralty Task And Finish Group, said that he had formally requested a change in policy so that diners would pay for their lunch and the money should not come from the borough's Civic Fund budget.

His recommendation is now being reviewed and will be considered next month.

Yesterday Susie Squire, campaign manager for national pressure group the Taxpayers' Alliance, said: “There is no way that ordinary people should have to pay for the fine-dining experience of councillors and local government employees.

“While it's a nice idea and they no doubt have a blast, there is absolutely no tangible benefit to the taxpayer in this and they should pay for their food like the rest of us have to.”

Last night Anne Turrell, leader of Colchester Borough Council, issued a statement saying: “In these economic times it is right that we should review more closely what the council spends money on.

“I can certainly see from our resident's point of view that this must seem like a small fortune and so it is right that the Mayoralty Task and Finish Group considered a report giving details of the associated costs of the Mayor Making lunch.

“However, the mayoral officer has been asked to investigate practice in neighbouring authorities and the political groups will be invited to consider introducing a charge on guests, the results of which will be reported back to the Task and Finish Group after the political group meetings in September.

“Any changes to the payment of this event will be announced after that.”

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