Taxpayers foot £135,000 bill for tea and biscuits

COUNCILS in the region spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on tea and biscuits for councillors last year, an investigation by The Northern Echo has discovered.

Councils face tough budget decisions as the global financial crisis continues to bite, but council taxpayers are still footing a six-figure bill for free refreshments for elected members.

An investigation into the finances of 13 of the region’s councils found that at least £135,623 was spent on snacks at council meetings last year.

The highest-spending authorities between April 2007 and March last year were North Yorkshire, Sunderland, North Tyneside and South Tyneside.

North Tyneside Council spent £28,200, South Tyneside £25,503, Sunderland City Council £24,610 and North Yorkshire County Council £23,563.

The figures are about the average wage of a senior social worker or fully qualified school teacher.

Susie Squire, from the Taxpayers’ Alliance campaign group, said: “It is wrong that taxpayers, who are already struggling in the credit crunch, have to foot this kind of bill.

“This is a sky-high cost for such everyday items, and those at the council should buy their own tea and biscuits, just like everyone else does.”

Newcastle City Council revealed that it had spent £326,000 on hospitality, but a spokeswoman said the authority did not know how much of that was spent on refreshments for councillors. Many authorities said the spending on councillors could not be separated from that for civic functions and receptions for visitors.

A spokesman for South Tyneside Council said: “There were 5,133 visitors who received some form of refreshment. These included guests and pupils visiting the town hall who received tea, orange juice and biscuits, and attendees and guests who attended council meetings and mayoral events and engagements.”

Of the remaining councils, Redcar and Cleveland borough spent £14,042, Middlesbrough spent £11,481 and Northumberland Council spent £8,223.

Durham county and Gateshead have yet to respond to requests for information.

The only councils in the region which do not provide free tea and biscuits as a matter of course are Hartlepool, Stockton and Darlington borough councils.

Darlington council leader John Williams said: “We think it is entirely appropriate for councillors to pay for their own refreshments when attending meetings – it is something that many people in other jobs have to do.”

A spokeswoman from North Tyneside Council said: “As the majority of the meetings that our 60 councillors attend during a year are in the evening, coinciding with usual mealtimes and often straight from work, it is reasonable that they should be provided with refreshments.”