Bust-up over credit for free meal axe

Wigan Town Hall
Wigan Town Hall

A STEAMING row has erupted over the ending of free hot meals for councillors attending committee meetings.

Standish independent Coun Gareth Fairhurst used his party blog to claim a personal political victory in his “long running campaign” to end the concession, claiming the allowance was wrong at a time of such massive town hall belt-tightening due to Government cuts.

But ruling Labour chiefs insist that the meals concession – take up had dwindled to only a few councillors per meeting – actually ended more than three months ago!

They rounded on him today for taking credit for something that was not of his doing.

That was because of the complete closure of the town hall bistro as part of the massive town hall refurbishment programme last year. And there are no plans to re-instate it when the historic former Wigan Mining and Technical College building fully re-opens in 2015.

Councillors previously qualified for an in-house three course hot meal – usually comprising soup, a roast meat with vegetables plus a sweet – when they were appointed to a town hall committee. But they needed to apply in advance for each meal ... and many Labour members had joined the opposition in already abandoning the allowance altogether.

Coun Fairhurst’s blog claimed he had won his long battle against free meals for councillors, adding: “I have always been against this. The reason is that councillors get an allowance, not expenses – they get them on top if they want, I have never claimed a penny in expenses. There is nothing stopping councillors taking a packed lunch or nipping into the town centre to grab a bite to eat.”

But Deputy Leader of the council David Molyneux dismissed Coun Fairhurst’s “victory” claims on his blog.

He said: “I’m afraid to disappoint Coun Fairhurst, but it wasn’t his idea to stop serving meals at council meetings. In fact, once again, Coun Fairhurst has got his facts wrong.”

Council leader Lord Smith said that “even in his wildest dreams” Coun Gareth Fairhurst “surely can’t really believe” he had any influence on the policy of the authority. He added: “The decision was taken for practical reasons during the refurbishment of the Town Hall. His views, as usual, were never considered when the decision was made.“