Row breaks out over free Sunderland Empire Theatre tickets being given to city councillors

A row has broken out between politicians in Sunderland over councillors being offered free tickets to Sunderland Empire Theatre shows.

Wednesday, 22nd May 2019, 5:01 pm
Sunderland Empire Theatre. Piture: Google.

Coun Heather Fagan was elected as a Liberal Democrat councillor for Doxford and Tunstall in the May 2 elections, taking the seat from incumbent Labour councillor, Colin English.

Days after the local elections, she was emailed by Sunderland City Council staff asking if she wanted free tickets to the Club Tropicana 80s musical – showing at the Empire Theatre this week.

Caption: Lib Dem councillor Heather Fagan

However, the tickets are non-transferrable, meaning they can’t be given by councillors to charities, community groups or raffled off.

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Sunderland City Council’s leader, Coun Graeme Miller hit out saying Coun Fagan is making the claims in her own interest.

After campaigning for free hospitality at the Sunderland Airshow to be scrapped, Coun Fagan has now set her sights on ending theatre perks for city councillors too.

“I stood for election as councillor so that I could get things done for my area and to campaign to improve our city – not to get my hands on perks like free theatre tickets,” she said.

Coun Graeme Miller

“The fact that freebies are still being dished out sends out a terrible signal to residents that their councillors are out for as many perks as they can get.

“It is as shocking as it is shameful that elected politicians in Sunderland seem to be offered these freebies as a matter of course.

“To add insult to injury, you are prevented from giving the tickets away to raise money of a charity or to give to local community and voluntary groups as a thank you.

“These groups are far more deserving of free theatre tickets. It is absolutely absurd.”

Under terms with Ambassador Theatre Group – the company that operates  Sunderland Empire – a small number of tickets are offered for shows running more than five consecutive performances.

The details of the agreement were revealed by cabinet member for Communities and Culture John Kelly, at a council meeting earlier this year.

In practice, the tickets are distributed through the office of the council leader – which involves an email asking councillors to register their interest.

The names of nominated guests are then passed to the theatre.

If tickets are not claimed, they can be offered to children in care or those with special requirements through the council’s children’s services agency, Together for Children.

And Wearside Liberal Democrats have added they will refuse all free theatre tickets in their ongoing campaign for council freebies to be axed.

Earlier this month, Coun Fagan called for transport bosses and the government to freeze tolls at the Tyne Tunnel – claiming commuters were being treated as “cash cows.”

Council leader of the Labour-led authority, Graeme Miller, responded: “This is the second time in two weeks that Coun Fagan has issued a press release that is all about her and not about the residents she is supposed to represent.

“First it was her using her position on the council to save herself a couple of quid by complaining about paying Tyne Tunnel tolls, which she pays to commute to work, and this week she is complaining about tickets to the Empire.

“Surely the residents of Doxford Ward voted for a councillor that would stand up for their interests and not her own.”

In recent months, emails sent to all councillors have offered eight pairs of tickets for shows including Benidorm and Rocky Horror Show.

Ambassador Theatre Group were contacted for comment.