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Storm over council's £5,000 party


A POLITICAL storm has broken over claims that Warrington Borough Council spent more than £5,000 on an “informal reception” for councillors and guests following the installing of the Mayor last May.
Two of Labour’s candidates for the elections this May have hit out at the Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition, accusing them of “self-indulgent spending in tough times.”
Chris Vobe, Labour’s candidate for Culcheth, Glazebury and Croft and Cllr Kevin Bennett, Labour councillor for Fairfield and Howley, used a Freedom of Information request to obtain a breakdown of the money the council had spent on the reception at the Parr Hall on May 23.
Mr Vobe said: “The figures are frankly staggering. They showed that £1,043.80 was spent on wine – and a further £2,760 on a hot buffet. Both complemented by an extra £211 on orange juice! Appallingly, all of this came from the public purse.
“The council even spent money on entertainment for the night – £350 of ratepayer’s money was used to hire a violinist to play to adoring crowd.
“In total – including staff time, the hiring of the venue, and even printing personal invitations for councillors – £5,082.21 was spent by Town Hall officers on a self-indulgent and ill-judged event that was allowed to take place on the watch of the Lib Dem/Tory administration.”
Cllr Bennett, who declined to attend the event, said: “Local Tories and Lib Dems ought to hang their heads in shame for allowing this event to be organised. I did not attend this reception, because I know people in my community did not send me to the Town Hall so that I could go to parties!
“People all over Warrington have elected councillors so they can fulfil their election promises – not to spend an evening guzzling wine and enjoying the bounty that was laid out at the buffet table.”
Cllr Ian Marks, leader of the Liberal Democrat group said: “If Labour were so concerned about this, why did they not cancel it? They had won control of the council a fortnight previously and could have done so.
“Why did many Labour councillors attend the event?
“It is traditional for local authorities to organise an event to mark the installation of a new Mayor.
“We have already done much to economise on the cost of the Mayoralty. We have purchased a new ‘green’ car which will save thousands of pounds a year.
“We intend to save more. The three party leaders have met to consider other ways of saving money in the present economic climate.
“Earlier, it was us who stopped serving free alcohol after council meetings and stopped supplying free meals before meetings.
“We stopped first class rail fares for councillors and officers.
“I am absolutely amazed by these claims.”
Pictured right: Chris Vobe (top) and Cllr Kevin Bennett.


About Author

Experienced journalist for more than 35 years. Managing Director of magazine publishing group with six in-house titles and on-line daily newspaper for Warrington. Experienced writer, photographer, PR consultant and media expert having written for local, regional and national newspapers. Specialties: PR, media, social networking, photographer, networking, advertising, sales, media crisis management. Patron Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace. Trustee Warrington Disability Partnership. Former Chairman of Warrington Town FC.


  1. Perhaps Ian Marks could explain what he did to stop senior managers at the council enjoying 9 per cent pay rises while cutting services and jobs. I know he’s always keen to speak out on a range of issues so I look forward to him offering the media a full choice of soundbites on that. It doesn’t have to be Ian although it happened on his watch. Any councillor will do.

  2. Thius amount is “chicken feed” to the real waste that this Council is going through. Wghy were top Officers given 9% pay rises while at the same time front line services were being cut. Councillors and other “Party” members should stop making party political noises at the expenses of residents and set about the real issues facing the Borough.

  3. the Lymm (and Ian Marks) bias of this Website shows no let up….!!

    What starts out as a piece attacking a ridiculously expensive party organised by the lib dems/conservatives ends up being another mouthpiece for the incredible Mr Marks………

    Well done Councillor Bennett on your stance, and also giving readers of this website the chance to hear the views of a different councillor for a change

  4. And to make his points or justify the actions of his party the soundbites will combine the descriptive lexicon of estate agents with the financial guile of tax avoidance experts or monetary manipulation PFI adherents.

  5. It is called – two sides to every story and giving people the right of reply when they are publicly being criticised!

    There is no bias on this website – we just report the news as it happens!

  6. Karl

    The one thing that we know about our councillors is that their opinions about the residents of Warrington flow far more easily than about council employees, whatever the subject. Looking forward to Geoff Settle getting himself into a public ‘fury’ about planning officers rather than vandals. Maybe Bob Barr could do an interview in a trade magazine about galloping executive pay at WBC. It would all make a very refreshing change.

  7. Hi Grey Man my comments when and where are made as a member of the planning committee during the public planning meetings and made about planning applications, issues and business. I don’t think that you need to be always making furious points of view to get things changed.

  8. So people are not allowed to comment or complain then? Marvellous how they are always there for the photo-shoot but are hiding when people question what they are doing..

    Councillor, this is a typical example of why voters don’t bother to get out there and vote, they just don’t trust the council to listen and act upon the will of the people.

    The latest word from my councillor, is that he/she must toe the party line. That is not why that person was elected.

  9. Maybe Geoff but there is a marked contrast between how you all make public utterances depending on their subject matter. Councillors are, in my view, far too silent on certain issues that need to be addressed clearly, unequivocally and publicly. It may be uncomfortable addressing them in comparison to expressing views about idiots smashing up bus shelters or bickering about politics but I don’t think you can have it both ways. There has been plenty for councillors to condemn within the council over the past few years and I think public condemnation of even very serious issues has been rare to non-existent.

  10. And, just to be clear, I’m not talking about politicians blaming each other. We have far too much of that already. I’m talking about addressing the actual issues.

  11. You must admit Geoff grey_man is right on the button when he says councillors are reticent, struck dumb or plainly reluctant to openly discuss the actions of some WBC employees (low and high). To take but one example: last year WBC was rightly and roundly criticized, yet only two councillors publically voiced concerns over the debacle. It matters little that Bob Barr and Kevin Reynolds came at it from opposite ends of the half full or half empty glass, at least they had the collective cojones to raise their heads above the party line parapets. Since then silence, presumably because as Silver Surfer claims there is a three line whip in place. Oh sure, party leaders scrambled over each other promising to get to the bottom of things with a full investigation. But by no stretch of the imagination can what has eventually been promised be classed as full. The marked resistance for a comprehensive investigation from our elected members is puzzling those elected them. We are unhappy that our elected members are trying to dictate the terms on which this and other debates are being conducted. I backed your stance on vandalism Geoff and will continue to do so, but on this issue I am with grey_man because unless councillors come clean about has gone and is going on, discuss and take appropriate actions, what the hell is the point of elections? The council may as well be run by the officers.

  12. That is also the conclusion I have drawn. In the past week we’ve seen another key policy openly ignored by officers in approving the out of development on Winwick Road and waved through by councillors with no regard to the consequences for the immediate area (already gridlocked) and the town centre (on its last legs). Of course this is just one example but we can all add many others.

    So if policy is not heeded, why have it? And if policy is not heeded, why hold an investigation into employees that flout it while knowing there are no consequence? And if officers can do as they please regardless of who is ostensibly in charge at the Town Hall, what is the point of councillors and elections? I’m sure Karl and I are not alone in thinking that councillors are now increasingly a front for the people who really run Warrington.

  13. Cllr Kevin Reynolds on

    Karl, Thank you for your comments. I can say that Lib Dems have no three line whip in place. I have asked for an update. I have been blamed for calling in the outsourcing of staff after no consultation with the trade unions. I will do my best for the residents of my ward but also the Town. The outsourcing of over 500 individuals without consultation just reflects how Labout treat you and the town. You only have to hear today what they have done in Doncaster – no consultation again. At least they master this.

  14. This is exactly the sort of stuff we are all tired of Kevin. Your administration was no better. You only have to look at the issue of Walton Hall to see how you viewed the principle of consultation. And do we really need to go over the various maladministrations associated with your party’s time in office? I know you were the lone voice calling for a proper investigation into the planning scandal, but you soon went quiet. Only you will know why that was.

    I remain of the view that the reason we never see any improvements is that no political party is committed to truly managing Warrington because that would mean putting council employees back in their place, holding them accountable when needed, enforcing your own policies and refusing to let employees get away with awarding themselves ludicrous pay rises. Just go back over the last few days and read some recent news stories to see how much regard the council’s staff have for the council’s own policies and the views of residents.

  15. There you have it…. party political nonsense as ever…”they did that, we do this” it never changes. I was listening to the radio tonight and there was a piece on about how Doncaster council is talking of cutting pay for EVERYONE on over £15,000 a year….. one chap from the local government association came on and said that “Chief executives pay has been frozen for the past x number of years”…..and yet here in Warrington our top officers are on a 9% rise! This is madness and it needs addressing….. there needs to be a massive swing towards independant councillors in this town to tell these party political numpties that WE the voters should be dictating policy via our councillors, not some un-elected officer in New Town House….. < <<<>>>>>>> we have had enough. (Oh and check out the nearly £700,000 it has cost us this year for the ineffectual councillors we have have…. they all have their noses firmly stuck in the expenses trough

  16. I always welcome and take on the issues raised by my constituents as best as I can. I try and get back to them with an answer to their query or complaint whether it is the one that they want to hear or not. I go back to them with an explanation about a decision or ruling in relation to their case.

    In Longbarn for example we have a big issue with the Home Office that is a result of a lack of consultation on a large development many years ago. I have helped organise three public meetings, leafleted 350 houses, conducted several street surgeries etc we have a fourth meeting in February. It’s not an easy process but I want people to be involved and have the opportunity to have their say.

    On a second planning issue closer to home I have been goaded constantly by the opposition over another planning issue that has been going on for years and my solicitor has instructed me to watch what I say and stick to a written agreement – so I can say no more on that one at present. Only to say that I am being billed as the Bad Boy of Cinnamon Brow!

    I have seen positive changes take place by officers following requests that I have made during planning meetings and I welcome these.

    As for the points that you make above as far as I am aware an independent person has been brought in to investigate. I was not around when this took place & I think it is inappropriate to comment on at the moment. However as an IT professional I have my own views about concerns that I would have raised back then with regard for example to process and procedures to do with document archiving.

  17. One other thing I forgot to mention. The Localism Bill gives councillors the power to control executive pay levels for those on over £100,000 which at WBC is far more people than you would think. I know Mike Hannon asked senior executives not to take a 9 per cent pay rise which they ignored, but he and councillors of all parties have the chance to MAKE them take a pay cut. Maybe if he’d backed up his plea for restraint with a reminder of the contents of the Bill which came into force in the Summer, they might have taken notice. This year councillors have an ideal opportunity, backed by the Government, to remind employees who is really in charge. Let’s see if they take it.

  18. Everyone is allowed to comment and complain that is your right. You should get an answer to your comment and or complaint regardless of what it is and what a party line is. and complain that is your right. You should get an answer to your comment and or complaint regardless of what it is and what a party line is. You may not like the reply but you can then take it further and get more support and then lobby your councillor – challenge their views/opinions if you don’t like what they are saying, especially if they are not sticking to their manifesto pledge.

    At the end of the day if they are being dishonest or taking a line that is unacceptable to you, you can always lodge a complaint that they will have to answer.

    However if they say that they simply don’t agree with your stance then you know not to vote them in next time or you can stand against them and have a go yourself.

  19. Whether you were or not around when the document destruction took place and all that ensued from it is really besides the point Geoff. The fact remains that officers, their managers and legal advisers failed to acknowledge, as they should have done, the wrongdoing and instead went about their business as though all was sweetness and light. Despite this state of affairs no one in WBC seems in the slightest bit intent in discussing the matter let alone disciplining those who transgressed for their failings. The town hall carpets are already hugely uneven from many of the previous matters that have been brushed under them to keep them from overly keen prying eyes. Doing nothing, remaining schtum and pleading “it is not appropriate to comment at the moment” is unconvincing not to say unedifying. Especially as we who elected you are looking for leadership not acquiesence.

  20. Hi Geoff

    Outside of my incessant droning on these forums I am in contact with councillors about these issues and my experience is almost always constructive, if limited. What none of you are doing, however, is addressing what are very deep seated problems with the functioning of the council. Predominant amongst these in my eyes is a lack of accountability for employees. Some of these people are paid extremely well and as part of that they should be held responsible when things go wrong or they act in ways that are not in the best interests of the people of Warrington. Just as councillors are held accountable to the people of Warrington through the ballot box, employees of the council should be held to account by councillors and that simply hasn’t been happening. What we have instead is the sight of politicians throwing mud at each other in public rather than taking staff to task for very serious failings.

    We’ve all heard endless comment on the planning scandal but I was horrified by the airy dismissal from senior council employees of Mike Hannon’s plea for executives to turn down their massive pay rises and for the way in which the whole matter was then just dropped like he had heard a royal proclamation. Not to mention the decision by the planning department to decide who got a say in their reporting on the Marton Close scandal – which conveniently didn’t include the people directly affected. Why aren’t you all jumping all over this stuff?

    Personally I would be grateful to any councillor or party that at the very least started asking the very difficult questions you have all been avoiding.

  21. Its sad to say but locals won’t view Warrington on local issues they will just see the national picture when it comes to May. At the end of the day councillors should fight for Warrington as one voice and thats what I fear at the moment with this Labour run joke machine that this will never happen.

  22. Actually Geoff, I would go further than saying nothing is being done. I think completely the wrong things are being done. For example, I found it astonishing that in the case of Marton Close the very department that was found in the LGO report to have ‘misled’ councillors and residents was asked for advice on what to do about the case and was then left to decide who should contribute to the recent inquiry, which amazingly did not include the residents. There is something seriously wrong with this department in my opinion and yet you as a council then think it’s appropriate to ask these turkeys what they think about Christmas. It’s nothing short of breathtaking.

  23. Yes I attended the 2010 reception as the majority of councillors – you are right to remind me that I should always think about what I say and do on this site because in the past I have been brought up before the ‘Standards of England Committee’. All 6 accusations were dismissed as there were no grounds for any of them and I was entitled to say what I did. However such challenges by people will keep me on my toes – I imagine that you may now fall into that category and have to watch what you say and do if not for past actions but for future ones – we now face more scrutiny than ever before and these days there is a cost – it’s just the way things are going.

    Having a solicitor and or a lawyer in the wings to step forward in your defence is something that may become more common feature in all our lives?

  24. I am still a relative newcomer but I can assure you that if I find anything that I do not like I will challenge what is going on – I can’t simply make stuff up I need evidence and facts.

  25. Geoff there was ample evidence and facts contained in (to take one instance) the LGO’s report and associated correspondence published on WBC’s website. Certainly enough to have drawn forth critical examination, if the will existed, of what went on, why it did and a determination to discipline those responsible for sullying the name of WBC. That things have been allowed to meander on all the while diluting the impact for 8 months and arrive at what is proposed is a sad reflection of what grey_man and others have complained. Namely a marked reluctance to face facts and deal with them, and I am not talking about the antisocial behaviour investigated by the Police, I am talking about the wrongful acts of some people in WBC.

  26. Karl has summed it up very well Geoff. And it was worse than antisocial behaviour. All of it is documented in public records including the role of the council and its documented refusal to respond positively to police pleas to act. The whole thing makes me wonder at what point the council would think enough was enough.

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