REDCAR and Cleveland Council has come under fire for a four figure spend on tea and coffee at its meetings over the last 12 months.

A Freedom of Information request revealed the local authority had spent £1,347 between April last year and the end of March on refreshments at its council meetings.

Campaign group the Taxpayers’ Alliance said residents would be “fuming” at the figure and claimed the council, which is run by an independent/Liberal Democrat coalition, was “taking the biscuit”.

It also pointed out in its newly published ‘Town Hall Rich List’ that there were five Redcar and Cleveland officials earning more than £100,000 each.

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Elsewhere, there was no such perk for councillors and staff in Darlington and Middlesbrough with both councils reporting nothing had been spent on refreshments at meetings in 2021/22.

Meanwhile, Hartlepool and Stockton Council did not respond to the FOI query.

Redcar and Cleveland Council said the answer it gave reflected charges made internally for budget purposes, rather than the actual cost of buying supplies, which was lower, and the £1,347 figure also included notional staff time and other costs.

Redcar MP Jacob Young told the Local Democracy Reporting Service he felt it was “reasonable” for refreshments to be provided, but councils had to be mindful of their spending in the current economic climate.

Mr Young said: “It’s not clear how many meetings this annual expenditure represents, nor the scale or nature of those meetings, so it is difficult to draw any conclusions as to whether or not this is a concern.

“I recall when Labour were in charge of Redcar and Cleveland Council they were paying £800 to set up and take out tiered seating after each council meeting, so this tea and coffee bill for a full year should be seen in that context.

The Northern Echo:

“I think it is reasonable for a local authority to provide refreshments at meetings with elected members and officers, which may also include members of the public and guests from other organisations invited to attend.

“However it is of course important that councils across Teesside handle public finances responsibly, while being mindful of the obvious financial pressures that we all face in the current economic climate.”

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Like all councils, Redcar and Cleveland turned to virtual meetings during the covid-19 pandemic, meaning councillors thirsty for a brew during meetings would have had to make a cuppa at home.

But after a direction from managing director John Sampson and in line with a relaxing of Government restrictions, the authority returned to meeting in the council chamber at its headquarters in Ridley Street, Redcar, earlier this year with tea and coffee making facilities also making a return.

‘Cost of living crisis’

Harry Fone, a campaign manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Taxpayers in Redcar and Cleveland struggling with a cost of living crisis will be fuming at these figures.

“While households are forced to tighten their belts, it seems councillors and council officials are loosening theirs.

“Town hall staff should stop taking the biscuit and make some much-needed savings for their residents.”

The council did freeze its portion of the council tax for 2022/23 in recognition of cost of living price hikes, but only after previously going out to consultation over a increase, while precept increases for the likes of police and fire meant bills overall still went up anyway.

A statement from the council said: “In common with other local authorities across the country the council does not generally provide refreshments for staff, but does offer instant tea and coffee for participants who attend dozens of public meetings over the year and which sometimes last for several hours. 

“The authority no longer provides biscuits or any other food for these meetings and the cost of providing refreshments has been reduced in recent years. 

“Furthermore, these figures do not take account of income that the authority makes from the sale of teas and coffee to outside organisations who hire council facilities in the course of a year, which would need to be offset against any expenditure.”

On salaries for leading officers, it said they were similar to those within other local councils and based on a transparent pay structure, which included job evaluation of roles to ensure they were remunerated at rates in accordance with the level of responsibility.

Redcar and Cleveland Council previously dispensed with the role of chief executive – last filled by Amanda Skelton until her retirement – as part of a cost saving restructure.

It also said salaries had been frozen for several years, only increasing in line with nationally negotiated pay awards.

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