Taxpayers pick up £26k bill for coffee at Stoke-on-Trent City Council
COFFEES, teas and hot chocolates for officers and their visitors cost a cash-strapped council £26,000 in one year as the authority made cuts of £35.6 million.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council racked up the bill providing hot refreshments for officers and their guests at meetings throughout the 2011-12 financial year, which was dubbed the 'toughest in living memory' by leaders due to the scale of budget cuts needed.
The authority has axed its subsidy for a drinks machine in the members' lounge after the authority's 44 councillors guzzled 10,800 free hot drinks in a year.
But figures show it spent £25,929 – about £500 a week – providing refreshments at private meetings.
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The total was amassed through paying for refill sachets for several deluxe machines which were provided by an outside company.
Chief executive John van de Laarschot and leader Mohammed Pervez both have access to a machine close to their offices.
The authority said it only provided refreshments when visitors were present and the meeting was scheduled to last longer than 90 minutes.
Councillor Dave Conway, leader of the opposition City Independents group, said: "To be spending £500 a week on teas and coffees is shocking. It is a colossal amount of money.
"I'd like to know the name of this coffee so I can tell my wife not to buy any.
"I can't understand how that much can be spent on drinks. They can't have that many meetings in a week.
"I sat in a licensing meeting which went on for more than two hours not long ago and I had a glass of water."
The coffee machine in the councillors' lounge was also provided free by an outside firm but the council was spending more than £3,400 a year to pay for an average of 900 drinks every month.
Councillors are now charged 40p for each cup.
The annual coffee bill outstrips the £17,500 annual subsidy paid to Norton Community Hall, which is one of a number fighting against the threat of closure under council cutbacks.
Centre management committee vice-chairman Mick Salih, of Norton, said: "It's scandalous that the money can be found for something like this but, when we talk to them about subsidy, they come up with every excuse under the sun.
"As volunteers at community halls, we are more than prepared to give up our time to run these facilities. So are these well-paid officers prepared to give up their coffee machines?"
Council and Labour group leader Mohammed Pervez said: "The city council provides refreshments to officers at meetings scheduled to last over 90 minutes and when visitors are present in meetings.
"The chief executive pays personally for any refreshments taken when the above criteria is not met, including any drinks consumed from a machine which is located in the vicinity of his office.
"A drinks machine is located in the office of the leader but it is not possible to provide an individual breakdown of the cost of this machine alone.
"The equipment used is both free on loan and outright purchased. There was no equipment cost in 2011-12."
Robert Oxley, campaign manager at lobbying group the TaxPayers' Alliance said: "It is astonishing how much money officers are spending on fancy coffees.
"Councillors have rightly ditched their perks, so it really takes the biscuit for town hall bureaucrats to keep theirs.
"This expenditure appears terrible value for money and will raise serious questions about the ability of those same officers to help deliver best value in other areas of council spending."