I recently debated on local radio the merits of Mayors and Lord Mayors. Should we have them? Do they give value for money? Many people do like the idea of having a Mayor, however especially during the current economic climate, taxpayers also want their money spent on essential front line services and not frittered away on free dinners for councillors.
A Freedom of Information request has revealed Rotherham Council has done just that, and spent almost £9K on a civic dinner. The event for 221 people was held at the Aston Hall Hotel, and unsurprisingly 55 councillors brought along a guest each to eat and drink at taxpayers' expense. The council would have struggled to pick a more expensive venue. According to the hotel's website, 'built in 1772 and steeped in history, Aston Hall Hotel has been lovingly restored and updated with a cool, contemporary design which is high in style but has kept all the original features very much intact to become the luxury hotel in Sheffield'.
The council's excuse is this is an annual event that celebrates all that is good in Rotherham, and it also served as a launch for the Mayor's fundraising. A council spokesperson also had this to say:
The event is a long-established non-political civic occasion which aims to foster good relations between the Mayor and the wider Rotherham community, including both the business and voluntary sector and other dignitaries and partner organisations.
This response didn't impress local campaigner Michael Sylvester who sent the Freedom of Information request. He said:
At a time of austerity, when Rotherham Council is slashing services and has cut 200 jobs, it is disgraceful they can find any money at all for a civic dinner.
Fostering good relations in the community is what councillors should be doing on a daily basis. They are after all supposed to be serving local residents. It is why they were elected. The council has used this reason as an excuse for a taxpayer funded freebie. When I am invited to attend a fundraising dinner I am rightly expected to pay for my own ticket, and I also expect to put my hand in my pocket during the course of the evening. I certainly don't expect a freebie - especially at taxpayers' expense.
Rotherham civic dinner FoI
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