Councillors’ free meals debate gets heated

Exterior view of Halifax Town Hall and the town hall spire
Exterior view of Halifax Town Hall and the town hall spire

Calderdale Labour has hit back after its councillors were accused of clinging on to their taxpayer-funded free meals.

The Calderdale Conservative group said the Labour-run administration opted to keep free meals in the town hall canteen for councillors. This was despite a motion from Conservative councillors earlier in the year to scrap the provision, which they believe costs taxpayers around £90,000 a year.

But cabinet member for resources coun Bryan Smith (Lab, Ovenden) has called the Conservatives “mischievous”, suggesting the motion was rejected because it did not go far enough.

“I think the Tories are being a little bit mischievous here,” he said. “We rejected the motion because it only focused on changing the canteen – we are looking at doing a whole review of hospitality services, including the canteen.

“It’s my opinion that councillors should pay for their own meals, but you can’t just close a canteen down straight away – you have people’s jobs to think about.

“A decision has not yet been made on this, but we have a team of councillors across all parties looking at the best way to save money in the town hall.”

Meals in the canteen usually cost between £2-£4 but are free for councillors whenever they attend a meeting in the town hall, with treats such as fish and chips, meat pie, pizza and chicken in black bean sauce on offer to diners.

Leader of the Calderdale Conservative group coun Scott Benton, who admitted to having used the free meal service before, said: “It is the official Conservative position that we should scrap these meals.

“In terms of who uses it, it’s cross party at the moment, but we believe that the taxpayer should not pay to feed councillors.”

Coun Smith said a decision is likely to be made by the end of March 2016.