Essex County Council defends £40k free-meal expense

Essex County Council About 3,500 meals were provided in the past year to councillors under the allowance rules

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Free meals for members of Essex County Council cost taxpayers £40,000 in the past year, it has emerged.

Under current arrangements, councillors on duty are able to get a free meal at the canteen at County Hall.

The Green group on the Conservative-controlled authority, which obtained the cost figures, says members should pay for their meals.

But the council leader David Finch said it was "a trivial issue" and said the lunches were "very basic".

More than 3,500 meals were provided in the 12 months up to April this year - meaning each meal, including beverage and staff costs, cost about £11.

Mr Finch said: "The meal allowance for county councillors is for when they are at County Hall or on accepted business and it is part of the allowance.

'Unjustified expense'

"It is not a free meal as such, it is part of their allowance. We have to save, over the next three to four years, £215m.

"We will be using our resource (sic) to look in the big areas where we can save the money, not in those trivial areas."

But Green group leader James Abbott said: "We think it is an unjustified expense. We already get allowances. It is the taxpayers who are paying for these meals.

"We're not saying the lunches should not be there. We just think they should be paid for (by the councillors)."

UKIP leader Roger Law said its county councillors would be paying for their own lunches while the Liberal Democrat group leader Mike Mackrory said the system should be looked at

The leader of the Labour Party, Julie Young said although her group had not discussed the issue, free meals might be important for councillors on the lower allowance levels.

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