‘Forced into doing the right thing’ - Tories and Lib Dems welcome plans to scrap ‘shameless’ free meals for Sunderland councillors
An opposition campaign to scrap free meals for councillors in Sunderland has been hailed a success following a Labour u-turn.
The ruling party at Sunderland City Council announced today it will look to pie-off the perk.
The move comes just months after Labour councillors scoffed and waved lunchboxes when the same proposal was put forward by the city’s Liberal Democrats.
Responding to the plans, newly elected Lib Dem councillor Heather Fagan, who used May’s local elections to call for the meals to be cancelled, said councillors should pay for their own food ‘just like everyone else’.
She added: “This is a welcome but extremely overdue move from Labour’s council bosses who are desperate to shed their out-of-touch image following their humiliating local election defeats last week.
“Residents across Sunderland have been up in arms for years about these shameless free meals – and just a few weeks ago in January Labour voted against Lib Dem plans to cut their taxpayer-funded buffets after meetings.
“Instead of doing the right thing and cutting these meals at the time they started cutting public services, the ruling Labour group have been forced into doing it only after it started to affect their own electoral success.”
Labour announced the measures in a message titled ‘You spoke, we listed’.
In this, council leader Graeme Miller admitted the perk had become a ‘concern to some in the city’.
At local elections on Thursday, May 2, Labour saw its majority in the council chamber cut by nine councillors, while opposition Conservatives and Lib Dems both gained.
UKIP and the Green Party also won their first seats in the city.
Labour also unveiled plans to cut Special Responsibility Allowances (SRAs) – money paid to senior councillors for taking on specific roles, such as chairing council committees or holding a portfolio for an area such as transport or children’s services on the ruling cabinet.
Full details of this have not yet been revealed, but deputy leader Coun Michael Mordey said it was intended to give ‘best value’ to council tax payers.
Both proposals were also backed by the Conservative Party, which is currently the second largest party on the council.
Tory leader Coun Robert Oliver said: “As far as SRAs are concerned, the Conservative group has proposed cuts to the overall budget and to reduce current SRAs on a number of occasions and the Labour Party has not agreed with us.
“We will need to see the detail, but we will make the point that these SRAs we don’t think are necessary for things like deputy cabinet portfolio holders and they need to be scrapped and others reduced.”
James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service