EDDC grilled by Sidmouth councillor over swanky civic dinner

EDDC chairman Councillor Stuart Hughes with vice chairman Cllr Helen Parr

EDDC chairman Councillor Stuart Hughes with vice chairman Cllr Helen Parr - Credit: Archant

District council bosses have come under fire for splashing nearly £3,000 on a black-tie civic dinner, when many taxpayers – who footed the bill – are ‘struggling’.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) chairman Councillor Stuart Hughes hosted the four-course ‘feast’ at Rockbeare Manor for 53 invitation-only guests last week.

East Devon Alliance (EDA) leader Cllr Cathy Gardner took issue with the biennial event, but the council said it was an opportunity to promote the best of East Devon.

Cllr Gardner, who represents Sidmouth along with Cllr Hughes, said: “Council budgets are under strain and they are unable to continue to provide some services, despite increasing our council tax this year.

“However, Cllr Hughes held an invitation-only civic dinner at Rockbeare Manor last week. The four-course feast with aperitif was free of charge to those that attended.

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“The total bill was £2,867.90 for 54 people – all at local council taxpayers’ expense. This means the meal cost over £53 per head.

“That is a very expensive night out for most people.”

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With many people ‘struggling’, she said the EDA had donated £120 to the Sid Valley Food Bank on behalf of its two attending members and called on the Conservatives to do likewise.

Sidmouth Town Council chairman Cllr Jeff Turner and Ottery St Mary’s mayor Glyn Dobson were among leaders from across Devon who donned their civic regalia for the event, and each could take a plus-one. The EDA’s Cllr Paul Hayward and another member – who the group would not name due to ‘confidentiality’ – also attended.

Diners were treated to canapés, baked cheddar and leek tart, roast rump of lamb and an afternoon tea cake stand.

An EDDC spokeswoman said the bill was settled from the £11,000 civic fund budget that is approved by the council every year for use by the chairman – a non-political role. There is currently £4,600 remaining in the fund.

The spokeswoman added: “The meal is a good opportunity to promote what is good about the district and to show the quality that the district has to offer.

“In the case of Rockbeare Manor, the new owners are bringing many hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors to the district and have invested in one of our most important historic buildings.

“The council considers that this was an opportunity to promote what’s great about the district and to ensure that East Devon is promoted as a quality destination.”

There was also a collection at the meal that raised £360 for Sidmouth Town Band, Cllr Hughes’ chosen charity for the year.

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