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Taxpayers still pay for dinner
Friday, 16 March 2012
Some of the councillors and guests at last Saturday’s Dartmouth civic dinner
SOME of the councillors attending Dartmouth’s civic dinner are claiming the cost against their expenses – despite a furore last year over taxpayers having to pick up the tab.
Dartmouth Town Council barred its councillors from getting a free meal following criticism that too many councillors and guests were eating and drinking at the town’s taxpayers’ expense.
He said he had cancelled both the district council’s own civic dinner and the annual civic service partly to save council money.
‘I wrote to all the town councils which would normally have invited the South Hams Council chairman to their civic dinners and said that, in the light of my cancelling the South Hams Council civic dinner and in lieu of those who would normally have received a cost-free ticket to that, I would pay for any civic dinner that I was invited to.’
He admitted the payment came out of his chairman’s allowance but said there was a ‘net’ saving to district council because it was not holding its own civic dinner this year when a number of VIP guests would have eaten free.
Cllr Robert Vint said the cost of the evening had come from the mayoral allowance, which is used at the discretion of Totnes mayor Cllr Judy Westacott.
‘She was unable to represent the town that evening and felt there needed to be a representative,’ Cllr Vint said.
The allowance was used for ‘diplomatic meetings between towns’, Cllr Vint said.
Cllr Vint added that the civic dinner raised funds for a local charity and that he personally donated £20, as did many others.
He said: ‘Totnes likewise uses such events to raise funds for charities – so I can’t see that mayors, or their substitutes, are gaining any benefit at public expense from representing the town at the events of neighbouring towns.’
Martin Johnson, Kingsbridge town clerk, admitted Cllr John Binns had claimed the cost from his mayoral allowance.
He said: ‘The allowance is provided to chairmen of local councils to meet their expenses of office – it’s contained in Local Government Act 1972 Sections 15(5) and 34(5).’
Cllr Binns added: ‘You should also be aware that I have declared to both Rufus [Gilbert} and Martin [Johnson] that I will donate the equivalent cost of all my paid – claimed – entertainment to my charities at the end of the year.
‘As discussed with Martin, I cannot pass public money to my charities, hence I have to spend it to put the equivalent out of my own pocket to charity.’
Dartmouth’s mayor, Cllr Paul Allen, paid for the meal out of his own pocket.
A total of 88 people sat down to the civic dinner.
Keeping them all entertained was town crier and magician Lez Ellis who toured the dining tables doing conjuring tricks.
The catering was done by the Royal Castle Hotel and the dinner took place in the Dartmouth Guildhall ballroom.
For their £28, the diners got a sparkling wine reception followed by a menu of chicken liver parfee with Royal Castle chutney to start; a main course of braised lamb pie with rosemary and red wine; and apple and cinnamon crumble with vanilla custard to top it all off – plus coffee. Grace was led by former mayor and current town counclllor Debbie Morris and the loyal toast was proposed by town councillor Rob Lyon.
The event was organised by town councillors Felicity Smith and Debbie Morris and this year’s dinner was the first time it had been organised in that way.
A raffle held during the civic dinner raised money for the mayor of Dartmouth’s cheer fund, which is money used to buy Christmas presents for some of the town’s deserving elderly. They have not yet counted it up.
Yet guests Cllr Rufus Gilbert, chairman of South Hams Council; Cllr Robert Vint, the deputy mayor of Totnes; and Kingsbridge mayor Cllr John Binns have all claimed the £28 cost of the meal against their allowances.
Cllr Gilbert said the cost would be coming out of his chairman’s expenses, so he would not be paying for it out of his own pocket.
‘The chairman’s expenses paid for me to go,’ he said.
All content © of South Hams Newspapers Ltd unless stated otherwise.
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Sir Ray Tindle
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