BUST UP ON BALLOONS

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PLANS to spend £3,000 on an opening ceremony in the Brownlow Community Hub have been slammed by Craigavon councillors.

The ceremony, which is to be attended by a number of statutory agencies, is due to be held on November 10.

The high cost caused councillors to hit out at the “extravagance” of the event.

At Monday night’s mid-monthly meeting of Craigavon Borough Council, development officer Olga Murtagh disclosed a breakdown of the costs.

The figures revealed that more that £1,800 was to be spent on catering, £600 on a guest speaker and £100 on balloons.

Shortly before the meeting, the final cost was revised down to £2,200.

The DUP’s Sydney Anderson encouraged the Council to “look at decreasing costs”.

“I would hope these costs come down somewhat further,” he said.

Sinn Fein’s Johnny McGibbon described the total bill as “unacceptable”.

“Attracting outside agencies to the Community Hub is important, but spending this sort of money on this event is unnecessary,” he said.

“The £100 being spent on balloons is just unacceptable.

“Earlier today, out of interest, I searched on the internet to see how much 100 balloons would cost.

“I found out that they cost just £4.99. Now, I would like to know how many balloons we will actually be buying.”

He added: “We need to be more careful with the money we are spending, and this outlook has to be extended across all departments.”

The DUP’s Carla Lockhart concurred with the other councillors’ statements.

She said: “Although this is an opportunity to invite some outside people in, we need to look at how much we are spending.

“Are our internal caterers being used? If not, why not?”

Mrs Murtagh said if councillors wish to provide an alternative arrangement, she would welcome it.

Cllr McGibbon replied: “It doesn’t matter if the money is transferred somewhere else, the ratepayer is still paying for the food.

“Indeed, do we really need catering at this?”

Cllr McGibbon proposed that only tea and biscuits should be provided.

Cllr Lockhart seconded the proposal.

The DUP’s Stephen Moutray said: “The Council officers are doing what has always been done.

“I’m not holding the officers to account for this, but the mindset certainly needs to change.

“We can open the hub with a lot less expense.

“I would also question why the speaker is costing £600.”

Alderman Moutray added: “We need to got more for our money.”

SDLP councillor Joe Nelson agreed, saying the price was “over-inflated”.

Alderman Anderson suggested that Mayor Alan Carson be invited to speak at the opening ceremony to save the £600.

The proposal was seconded by Cllr McGibbon.

On the £600 fee Mrs Murtagh said: “We were looking at the type of celebrity personality that could increase press coverage.”

Cllr Lockhart said: “We have to be careful here.

“We have a great facility and we want to showcase it to outside agencies and we want them to use it in the future.

“However, there doesn’t need to be as much grandeur.”

Cllr McGibbon added: “We are appreciative of the work the officers are doing, but we need to have a critical eye on all the spending we are doing.

“It is not a criticism of the work the officers are doing.”