Council say no to tea and biscuits

ANYONE using facilities at Craigavon Civic Centre will get nothing more than a glass of tap water unless they’re prepared to pay up.

The move effectively puts councillors and members of other statutory agencies into the same category as the man in the street.

The cutbacks to food and refreshment provision at the civic centre come as part of austerity measures to ensure council are making best use of ratepayers money.

The frugal policy on snacks and beverages will also apply to councillors who have agreed to do away with their tea, coffee, sandwiches, biscuits and buns which had become commonplace before council meetings. It’s understood around £7,000 a year was being spent on catering for council meetings.

The decision had previously been taken to replace bottled water with jugs of tap water at meetings.

The proposals to eliminate spending on food and beverages for councillors and other statutory organisations using the civic centre was agreed at this Monday’s council meeting.

The initial proposal to do away with buns and sandwiches prior to council meetings came from DUP Councillor Carla Lockhart.

She suggested a system whereby only tea, coffee and biscuits were provided for councillors prior to meetings.

The UUP’s Arnold Hatch warned against passing the proposal without a full discussion before the relevant committee.

He was reminded by Sinn Fein’s Johnny McGibbon any member is at liberty to make a proposal in the chamber and it was up to the council as a body to approve it.

DUP MLA Stephen Moutray said he was disappointed Mr Hatch was trying to get the decision made behind the scenes so he didn’t have to make his views public.

Mr Hatch said he hadn’t decided on whether to support the proposal or not and added he had concerns about members who suffered from diabetes who required a certain intake of food before meetings.

Alliance Councillor Conrad Dixon said he was in support of the proposal. He pointed out that a lot of buns are left over after meetings.

UUP Alderman Meta Crozier talked of her health issues which make it important that she gets food when going from one meeting to another. In spite of her personal circumstances she suggested that councillors were capable of feeding themselves between meetings and proposed that there should be no provision at all made for councillors at the civic and conference centre.

Her proposal was seconded by Alderman Hatch and passed by council.

Later in the meeting the issue of food and drinks provision raised its head again.

When discussing a request from SWaMP to hold a meeting in the council chamber it was suggested by DUP MLA Sydney Anderson that if councillors had agreed to go without food and refreshments, then other statutory bodies using the civic centre who wanted lunch or snacks should pay for their own.

UUP Councillor Kenneth Twyble and SDLP Councillor Joe Nelson said council should tread carefully before making a decision which would affect other organisations.

Councillor McGibbon agreed with Alderman Anderson saying: “We can’t have one rule for one and one rule for another.”

Mr McGibbon added: “There’s people in this borough struggling to put food on the table. They’re working two jobs to provide for their families. If you’re going from a job at 5pm to a job at 6pm does your employer have your dinner waiting for you on the table?”

He said councillors as well as statutory organisations booking the civic centre should live by the same rules as ratepayers.

Mr Moutray commented: “Not one ratepayer would come in here and eat free of charge, so why should ratepayers’ money be used to pay for others?

“Anybody coming here will have to pay for their food. We need to get real. Times are a changing.”

Councillor Lockhart put forward the proposal that anyone booking a room in the civic centre, regardless of who they are, would have to pay for their food and drink.

17 councillors backed the proposal, three voted against it and there was one abstention.