Thursday, March 10, 2011

Curled-up at the Edges

I recall some time ago, the proposal being raised that Thanet District Council meeting be held during the day in order to save money, on power, security, sandwiches and more. There was, if my memory serves me properly, one opposition councillor, very much opposed to the idea and now he's conducting a personal crusade against the idea of free drinks and three  plates of sandwiches for all Councillors at the end of a long evening's meeting.

Regardless of whether you happen to be opposed to the principle of your Councillors, who may come directly from work, having a dry sandwich, a single glass of wine or beer or orange juice, a bowl of peanuts and a slice of melon, at the end of a three hour or more meeting, isn't really the issue here. Instead, it's the allegation that this is somehow an example of wild profligacy with the public purse, given the lurid picture painted of plates piled high with expensive food, which simply  isn't the case. To suggest that 'alcohol is lubricating the political process' is quite risible and would be a 'Loaves & Fishes' miracle worth seeing on the small Chairman's refreshments budget involved.

Instead perhaps it illustrates only too well that the Thanet Labour Group are quite unable to make any pragmatic suggestions on next year's council budget, which involves saving over £1.6 million without raising council tax. Even one original suggestion would be good! The only answer so far is to attack the closure of the lift at Walpole Bay and the cost of a providing a cheese or Tuna sandwich to tired and hungry Councillors at the end of a long evening meeting.

Now, to be honest, I would be quite happy to pay for decent M&S sandwich out of my own pocket after three hours or more of listening to the opposition but there must be a broader principle of governance at stake here which deserves some debate. Yes, local government should not be profligate with public money but in the past, when I used to own a medium size business and I asked my employees to work anti-social hours, I always made sure that we had a Dominos Pizza delivery to ensure they didn't go hungry. Should Councillors be treated any differently or is there an argument to support the tradition of a bite to eat after a long day?

What's your view?

26 comments:

Bill Richards said...

I have said elsewhere that I have served on committees of charitable organisations and governing bodies where the provision of refreshments was not uncommon when a long evening session was anticipated. I do not have a problem with that as long as it does not get out of hand and turn into a banquet.

To major on such a matter, as Cllr. Nottingham seems to be doing, does suggest a lack of real issues to attack the Conservative council over, but I feel this is more about raising his own profile amongst grass roots Labour support.

Indeed, it is more to do with his spat with Labour's local leaders and demonstrating that he is getting on with the job of attacking the nasty Tories whilst they are too involved with their internal squabbles.

All makes one wonder whether a coup is in the offing!

Anonymous said...

Were they buttered sarnies or did they use margarine. Butter would be an extravagance!

Anonymous said...

Soft drinks, tea, sandwiches & biscuits, yes - alcohol, NO!

Anonymous said...

I hope you only sit on one spike while eating.
Two spikes would be an extravagance!

DrM. said...

It's a valid point on alcohol but remember that a can of beer is about the same as a can of sprite and to be honest there's not enough of it to really consider it an indulgence. I doubt we could run to one can between two and like me, I think most people stick to the orange juice as we are driving home.

itmike said...

I can't see any problem with refreshments after a long meeting. This person councillor nottingham seems a very petty person with little else to do. Does he bring his own refreshments to the meetings. Get a life comes to mind.

Anonymous said...

If you read his weblog he leaves on his bicycle to find a working mans pub to enjoy a real ale pint with real socialists!

It's true!

Anonymous said...

It's not so much the price of the alcohol that bothers me as the fact that alcohol affects people's judgement. You can argue that it's just one glass of wine, but are there any safeguards in place to prevent anyone from drinking 2 or 3 glasses or more? Enough to affect people's judgement when driving, so by default enough to affect judgement of other matters too.

Anonymous said...

Just too stupid a conversation to be true, A £1.6M defecit and your worrying about a bleeding sandwich or two....
I was of the opinion that it was a council of Intellectuall, adult forward thinking dedicated individuals in our council, I have seen a better standard of reasoning at my sons primary school.

Unbelievable !

DrM. said...

In my experience people want to get home to a warm bed so if you're like me, you grab a couple of sandwiches and a handful of crisps, chat for ten minutes or so about the meeting and head for home!

It's not really a social event we are describing here and from memory there's a bottle of red and a bottle of White for anyone who might want a plastic cup to go with a sandwich

DrM. said...

I'm not so much worrying about it as offering a response to a strident Labour allegation of wasting public funds on sandwiches

I see this as quite ridiculous in the present circumstances

Bill Richards said...

6:56 PM you have to consider where the stupidity is coming from. It is not the council collectively but one councillor, Nottingham, on some personal vendetta who is stirring this pot. Neither the council or the owner of this blog can be held responsible for the resultant inane comments of some contributors seeking to turn a few refreshments into a federal case.

As I said earlier, this is more to do with Nottingham's battle over his deselection than the cost of the councils snacks.

Anonymous said...

Councillors pick up enough ratepayers money doing a part time job that they should pay for any refreshments. To say it is only a few sandwiches and will not make a difference to the total deficit is rubbish. What is the total annual cost of this and that is the savings to the people that pick up the bill, the local council tax payer.

Bill Richards said...

9:42 Nobody said it would not make a difference but if it is as vital as you imply why did the Labour group not seek an amendment in the budget debate to the chairman's allowance. Could it be that one of them hopes to be the next chairman and would like to keep that lovely loot. After all, the current Labour leader has previous for trying to cling to his leader's allowance in the face of mounting opposition.

James Maskell said...

Years ago I was able to attend these gatherings and frankly I dont see what the fuss is about.

Anonymous said...

Never mind a few sandwiches or whatever, its not the Cllrs but the senior council officers who have their snouts in the trough at TDC

DrM. said...

Just a note to remind readers that Thanet is a heavily subsidised and welfare/benefits dependent communuity and that only a small fraction of collected council tax goes towards paying for local services. The greater percentage comes from grants.

ascu75 aka Don said...

I am amazed at this whole issue and Mark sould be ashamed of himself. I would ask him to be a grown up but he appears not to have reach nursery school let alone puberty.

DrM. said...

I have read several references on Mark's weblog to carrying plates piled high with sandwiches to 'The Conservative Club'. Late at night I would assume!?

I'm not familiar with any Conservative Club. There is, I know a building called The Constitution Club opposite the council offices but I'm not directly aware of any connection with my politics and perhaps membership is secret, involves a donation of sandwiches and I'm not yet old enough or qualified enough for membership.

Mark is partly right though. The name of the club does start with a 'C'

Anonymous said...

"Just a note to remind readers that Thanet is a heavily subsidised and welfare/benefits dependent communuity and that only a small fraction of collected council tax goes towards paying for local services. The greater percentage comes from grants."

Well that is good to know. Not just paid for by my council tax but by a grant that comes from my income tax!!!

DrM. said...

A badge of honour .. Paying income tax, as this week we heard that 20 million people were on benefits. In 2009 2010 the last government spent more on Welfare than it received in income tax. Makes you think!

To be honest, if society is reduced to quibbling over whether a councillor should be entitled to a drink and a sandwich at the end of a very long day with no dinner, then I really wonder we've lost touch with our sense of what's really important at one of the most difficult periods in generations

Anonymous said...

One conclusion one reaches on this saga over sandwiches, or whatever, is that Mark Nottingham is scratching aound for mud to sling at the Conservatives. He also embellishes his stories with unfounded and exaggerated claims like the plates of food heading off to the non existent Conservative Club.

Following the postings on his blog over time, I have found that they are not without a certain bile and, despite his claims to the contrary, he is selective on the comments he publishes. Frankly he comes over as have a bit of an unpleasant streak about him and it may be this, as much as anything else suggested, that has got up the noses of his fellow Labour councillors.

Anonymous said...

The real point at issue is not the cost of refreshments but the length of the meetings. Is it reasonable for someone with a fulltime job to be expected to sit for three hours at full attention to the issue? Where the working time directive?
Is it any wonder that so many questionable decisions are made by tired, overworked people irrespective of party colour?

DrM. said...

Interesting point and sometimes as late as 11:00pm

It would be shorter by an hour, if opposition councillors didn't have so much to say and so often, about what they used to do when Labour was in control!

Anonymous said...

you know i find it so hard to try and understan people who go on about a few sandwiches after a council meeting they must be so sad

DrM. said...

Meanwhile, back on Cllr Nottinghams blog I read in the comments....

"But I do know that back in 2008, the spreads were lavish with lots of alcohol and plates of food being carried across to the local conservative club after the meetings. That doesn't happen now."

I ask you, who makes his kind of rubbish up and why. What Conservative club?