Belfast Telegraph

Belfast councillors run up £75k food bill in four years

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Hungry Belfast councillors have consumed more than £75,000 worth of food at meetings over the past four years, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

The City Council is one of the last local authorities in Northern Ireland that provides a two-course dinner for elected representatives who attend evening meetings.

Public representatives are treated to a choice of main, two sides and a dessert.

To keep them going through the full monthly meeting — which has yet to last longer than five hours — councillors still peckish after their dinner can munch on sandwiches and buns.

For those attending morning meetings platters of fruit, sausage rolls or scones are currently on offer.

At lunchtime there is a choice of soup and sandwiches.

This food is provided regardless of how long the committee meeting takes — which is sometimes less than one hour.

Belfast City Council said it was cheaper to provide councillors with a meal from their in-house catering department than to give them an allowance.

Democratic Services Manager Stephen McCrory said: “Allowance regulations set the maximum rate for lunch at £13.50 and dinner £20.95. This can be contrasted with the actual cost of £2.93 per person for lunch and £4.04 for dinner for direct provision by our own in-house catering staff.

“The amount and type of food and refreshment provided is kept under constant review to ensure that the best value for money is achieved.”

The figures were obtained using a Freedom of Information request from this newspaper.

The £75,000 spent on food would pay for about five additional street cleaners or four more park rangers.

Elsewhere in Northern Ireland other councils have opted against holding evening meetings in a bid to cut costs.

In Derry they are offered tea or coffee; in Lisburn nothing is provided while in Armagh tea, coffee and biscuits are supplied with sandwiches offered only if two meetings run consecutively.

A spokeswoman for the Taxpayers Alliance said: “This is exactly the sort of thing the council should cut spending on. It won't hit front line services so it's a quick and easy saving. There's no reason taxpayers should pay for food at a meeting that lasts less than an hour, let alone a full meal.”

Factfile

Food bill for Belfast City Council meetings

07/08 - £18,248

08/09 - £19,030

09/10 - £18,697

10/11 - £19,975

Belfast Telegraph

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