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.