Sunderland Labour councillors propose axing free meals at council meetings after drubbing in the polls - despite previously mocking the idea
Sunderland Labour councillors have proposed axing the free meals served up at the end of council meetings - despite having ridiculed the idea just a few months ago.
In a statement entitled "you spoke, we listened" released today, the Sunderland Labour Group sets out what it calls a raft of changes for the next 12 months, including ending the free meal provided to all councillors at the end of full council meetings, and reducing pay for senior councillors.
Such a move had been proposed by Sunderland's Liberal Democrat councillors at a meeting in January of this year, at which Labour councillors had scoffed at the idea - with council leader Graeme Miller waving a lunch box to mock his political opponents in the chamber.
All Sunderland City Council staff, councillors and guests can have a free meal after a full council meetings at a public cost of £5,000 a year, which the Lib Dems had said was "indefensible" at a time when public services were being cut. But their motion to end the free meals was voted down.
Now the Sunderland Labour Group, which controls the council, is eating humble pie. It has put forward the notion itself as it sets out its stall for the coming council year after taking a battering in the local elections earlier this month, seeing its majority cut by nine.
The motion will be put before a full council meeting on Wednesday May 15.
Coun Miller said Sunderland Labour has "heard loud and clear the message from voters and has listened to them".
“It is clear from talking to residents that the meal provided at the end of full council is a concern to some in the city," he said.
“As a Labour Group, we fully understand that, we have listened to concerns and therefore we are proposing that the meal after council will end.
“I hope all other political groups on the council will support this change, as it is responding directly to the wishes of local residents.
“Sunderland Labour will always listen and respond to the concerns of city residents.”
Other plans announced today by Sunderland Labour include a proposal to bring forward a plan to cut the number of Special Responsibility Allowances (SRA) paid to councillors.
A Special Responsibility Allowance is paid to a councillor who takes on additional responsibilities, such as chairing committees or being a member of the council’s cabinet.
They are also paid to members of the two opposition political groups – Conservative and Liberal Democrats.
Labour's deputy council leader Michael Mordey said: “It was always the intention of Sunderland Labour to bring forward changes to allowances in this new civic year.
“As a group we understand the concerns of local people and fully intend to listen and respond to those valid concerns.
“Councillors do an excellent job representing their residents and our city, but we want to ensure that the city council tax payer is getting best value for the work their councillors do on their behalf.
“That is why we will be asking the chief executive to make arrangements to convene the Independent Remuneration Panel and will be making a submission to them on behalf of Sunderland Labour that we feel is a fair and balanced package of allowances moving forward.
He added: “However, the underlying principle of our proposals will be that the number of allowances are reduced and every penny of the money that is saved will be invested in much needed frontline services.”
The move has been welcomed by Sunderland Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, with the latter claiming the council had been "forced into doing the right thing" after first voting down their motion on scrapping the free meals.
The statement released by the Sunderland Labour Group went on to say it is "absolutely committed to fighting for the residents of our city".
It goes on: "We will continue to do that every day. We would like to thank everyone that supported Labour candidates at the recent elections.
"We are truly humbled by your continuing support, that ensured that Labour finished the elections as the party that won more votes and more seats than any other party.
"We are, however, equally committed to winning back the support of residents that chose this time to support another party.
"We will work tirelessly to show the people of Sunderland that we are the only party that offers a real programme of policies and ideas that will see Sunderland, Washington, Houghton and Hetton drive forward and prosper as we enter a new decade."