Leeds City Council’s hospitality bill has fallen to a five year low, and by a third overall, as the authority has seemingly put the gradual brakes on its ‘gravy train’.
Figures obtained by the YEP show that since 2010, the council has been spending less and less on wining and dining its guests at taxpayers’ expense.
In the last financial year - which included the Tour de France and the arrival of many national and foreign dignitaries in the city - the food and drink bill was a relatively frugal £11,000, compared to £30,000 five years ago.
The ‘special events’ bill went up slightly in TDF year to £57,000, but was still much lower than five years ago.
However the council admits that the ‘special events’ referred to may include “some expenditure on alcohol” - although it was unable to tell the YEP how much of the bill was booze-related.
In total, the Civic Hall hospitality bill has gone down from £96,000 in 2010/11, an average of £8,000 a month, to £69,000 in 2014/15, an average of £5,750 a month, with incremental decreases in the intervening years.
However council tax payers have still forked out a total of £392,000 over the past five years on hospitality costs.
Of that total, £110,000 was on food and drink and £275,000 was on ‘special events’.
In the same time period, Leeds City Council has lost £250m of its own revenue - and suffered a cut of more than 15 per cent in Government grant this year.
But it has also axed 2,000 jobs - slashing its employee bill by almost £50m, closed several old people’s homes and day centres and made or announced a raft of swingeing cuts across many services.
Campaigners today welcomed the reduced strain on the public purse from luxuries, but stressed that in the context of wider cuts, more can still be shaved off unnecessary expenses.
Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “The council is to be congratulated on bringing the hospitality bill down, but it still has much to do.
“At a time when we’re trying to find significant savings across all areas of public spending, slap-up meals and luxury hotels should be first for the chop. Taxpayers will welcome the fact that the gravy train is slowing down, but they’d rather it was brought to a halt entirely.”
A spokesman for Leeds City Council said: “As with all areas across the council, budgets and costs for food, refreshments and hospitality are continually monitored and evaluated to ensure they are appropriate and provide the best possible value for money.
“As an ambitious major city, Leeds receives regular visits from national and international guests so providing a level of hospitality is appropriate.”
The YEP submitted a Freedom of Information request to Leeds City Council, in which it asked for details of the authority’s costs for hospitality over the last five financial years, including 2014/15.
We also requested a breakdown of all total expenses, broken down per year by food, alcohol, hotel stays, parties/special events/VIP receptions and cost of transporting guests.
We were told that while the “transactional narrative” in some years had allowed for smaller breakdowns of costs such as spend on alcohol, in other years “it has not been possible to separately quantify”.
However we were told that “it is likely that there is some expenditure on alcohol included in the Special Events totals”.