Bring back our food! say hungry Peterborough city councillors (but this time they'll pay for it)
Debating the big issues in Peterborough has left famished city councillors calling for a return to food and alcohol being served at the end of meetings - except this time they intend to pay for it.
Taxpayers were saved thousands of pounds a year after the Peterborough Telegraph revealed in June 2017 that the cash strapped authority had spent nearly Â£4,500 serving food and drink to councillors over the previous 12 months, with the spread including taxpayer-funded wine.
Members received a buffet after every Full Council meeting which sometimes included hot food, as well as cakes, sandwiches and snacks. Each buffet worked out at Â£8.25 per councillor per meeting.However, following the PT's article the fine spread was soon watered down to tea, coffee and biscuits with council leader Cllr John Holdich declaring: "The public think we all have our noses in the trough. I’m determined to show that we have not."
But members of the council's new Constitution and Ethics Committee want to look at returning to a more substantial meal at the end of Full Council meetings, which often end around 11pm.
Cllr Steve Allen, Conservative member for Eye, Thorney and Newborough, brought up the idea during Monday night's meeting, even though it was not on the agenda.
His original suggestion was to have the food and drink funded by the council, but committee members soon changed the idea to paying it for themselves.
He said: "I think we should be big enough to look at this again, from the mayor's budget. It brings together all councillors from all political positions. I do believe we are penny-pinching for the sake of it.
"It was a knee-jerk reaction made at the time just to prove to people that we weren't being too generous with ourselves, and I think the cost of it is so minimal. It brings politicians of all descriptions together in a relaxed way after a council meeting."
A supportive Cllr Nick Sandford, the Liberal Democrat group leader, specifically picked out the PT as being behind the cutback. He said: "It's something the press can get hold of.
"Maybe some of the buffets we've had in the past were a bit ostentatious, when we had alcohol and lots of fancy cakes and things.
"I do think Cllr Allen makes a good point. It was a way of defusing tension after a council meeting. I also used to find it quite practical with senior officers - it was often an opportunity to have a conversation with somebody about an issue."
Cllr Allen clarified that he would like to see a limited amount of alcohol and food made available, adding: "It's a long night. We're thinking about changing it from 6pm to 10pm. But still 10 o'clock is a long time after six o'clock not to have eaten. By then the restaurants have closed.
"And I think the conviviality and coming together across the political divide can be re-established if we just hang around together. And I'm not talking about a cup of tea and a biscuit. I'd rather go home and have a Maccy D."
Committee chair Cllr David Seaton queried what a 'Maccy D' was, before being told it was an abbreviation for McDonald's.
Labour and Co-operative member for Ravensthorpe Cllr Ed Murphy interjected: "Can we get back to business. It's regrettable that we're talking about alcohol and food now when we should be dealing with council business."
But Cllr Seaton, the cabinet member for resources, added: "I think there is a serious point to make here. At the end of the last meeting I was hungry. All I was going to get was a cup of tea and a biscuit from the mayor and I needed something to eat, so I left.
"It is true to say in the past there has been a cross-party mix of people and we've had a good discussion about things and with officers. I think we have to an extent lost that.
"How well the mayor's budget runs to something simple, I don't know. I do take Cllr Allen's point that a contribution in the pot to cover any food, with the balance going to the mayor's charities, seems to me a reasonable thing. I do not think we go back to this is paid for and we have a freebie."
It was agreed for the idea of councillors paying for a post-Full Council meal to be opened up to wider discussion among members.
The meeting also saw the committee recommend that questions at Full Council meetings relate to broader council matters and not ward specific issues.
The recommendation will now be put before Full Council for a vote, as will a recommendation to make sure all council petitions are relevant to Peterborough.