West Sussex County council spends more than £78k on refreshments

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West Sussex County Council has spent more than £78,000 in the past financial year on refreshments for councillors and staff.

The figure included more than £500 for a meal served during the last full council meeting, on St Valentine’s Day.

That meeting saw councillors approve the first swathe of budget cuts being made in an effort to chop £140million from the budget over the next four years.

A total of £78,985.60 has been spent on refreshments, including lunches, during the 2013/14 financial year, up to February 24 – £511.16 on the full council meeting alone.

The menu options that day were: braised steak jardinière, vegetable moussaka, new minted potatoes, farmhouse vegetables, baby brussels sprouts and jus lie sauce followed by spotted dick, tiramisù, chocolate mousse, fresh fruit salad and custard sauce.

To wrap up the repast, there was cheese, biscuits and coffee.

Eighty servings were provided and some £21 worth of food went unused.

The information was released as part of a Freedom of Information request.

Cllr Richard Burrett (Con, Pound Hill & Worth) supported the county council’s defence of the provision free lunches for the 71 councillors, saying it was “in line with all local authorities under national legislation”.

A council spokesman added: “It is more cost effective for the county council to provide these lunches than for members to buy them and claim the cost on expenses.”

The spokesman said hot meals were provided at up to six meetings per year while sandwiches were provided during smaller meetings.

He added: “The allowances scheme takes into account that many councillors have to travel long distances to reach County Hall and have many outside commitments, including varied family and work commitments.

“By providing lunches for full-day meetings, councillors are able to make better use of their time and fit more county council business into the working day.”

Catering for the county council is run internally by the authority.

The council insisted waste food was “kept to an absolute minimum” but said any food unable to be reused at the authority’s cafe was thrown away.

Cllr Brenda Smith, Labour leader at county level, said: “Whether and what to claim is a personal decision of each member. All members are entitled to claim subsistence for day long meetings, taking travel time from Crawley into account, members’ day is over nine hours for the full council meeting.

“The cost of the meal is much less than members are entitled to claim. We would be prepared to support a review of all allowances and subsistence.”