In his search for gossip, Mr S has few qualms about perusing other august publications for inspiration. So it was in that spirit that his eye alighted on a story in a recent edition of Private Eye which noted that 'food bank clients in Liverpool' were left 'not impressed' after 90 city councillors recently tucked into a £6,000 buffet at the council's annual general meeting.
It brought to mind Steerpike's favourite piece of local journalism of the past decade: a 2013 edition of the Brentwood Weekly News, whose front page had an exasperated-looking Eric Pickles next to the headline ‘I did not spend £10,000 on extra biscuits’. That story concerned departmental expenditure by the-then Communities Secretary but Mr S thought it might be worth looking at what councils at a local level are spending on grub across the country.
Well, the results are now in. Freedom of Information requests have established that local authorities spent nearly a quarter of a million pounds on refreshments in 2021-22 as elected officials and council staff began returning to their offices. More than £225,000 was spent with the highest spending authorities being Westminster on £22,000, followed by Wokingham on £17,000. Both were Tory run until May: let's hope it wasn't the biscuits that lost it.
Antrim and Newtonabbey came third with nearly £15,000 followed by Hull and Barnsley who spent more than £10,000 apiece. Some authorities revealed fun details too: SNP-run East Ayrshire spent more than £7,500 on refreshments including homebaking, scones and finger buffets while Enfield spent £1,320 on refreshments, including 'cheese, wine, beer and biscuits'. Bottoms up! Lisburn and Castlereagh's spread included 'shortbread, mince pies and sandwiches' with Norfolk preferring 'soup, sandwiches, bacon rolls and biscuits.' Worthing meanwhile plumped for 'luxury, hand-made biscuits.'
Harry Fone, grassroots campaign manager at the TaxPayers' Alliance told Mr S that: ‘Taxpayers struggling with council tax rises and a cost of living crisis will be fuming at these figures’ adding ‘while households are forced to tighten their belts, councillors and council officials are loosening theirs.’ Food for thought for voters, perhaps, the next time they cast their ballots...