How Edinburgh councillors’ free lunch helped keep them out the pub – Steve Cardownie

In the past, some Edinburgh councillors would find their own venue for lunch – later claimed on expenses – and then return emboldened by liquid refreshment to give long-winded speeches, writes Steve Cardownie.

Normally taciturn councillors would return after lunch to give long speeches to rival those of Neil Kinnock, seen during a speech to the Scottish Labour Party conference in Perth in 1989.

Councillors in Edinburgh are considering whether or not to continue with the provision of a free lunch when the full council meets.

Normally once a month, the annual bill amounts to around £18,000 – and given the current position of the council’s finances, and the stringent budget agreed last month, there are moves to either charge for the lunch or to scrap it altogether and leave councillors to make their own arrangements.

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Free lunches worth £18,000 for Edinburgh councillors back on the table after pla...

Back in the day before councillors were paid a salary, a claim had to be submitted for lunch which meant that the full council meeting would adjourn at around 12.15pm and reconvene at 2pm, allowing elected members to depart to the venue of their choice.

One of the unintended consequences of this arrangement was that some councillors would return, not inebriated, but certainly emboldened by the liquid accompaniment they had imbibed with their meal, and would insist on making long, often irrelevant, speeches in the afternoon session which would drag on as a result, sometimes not finishing until around 7pm.

Councillors who normally limited their contributions to “for” or “against” if a roll call was taken would make long-winded speeches that would put Neil Kinnock in the shade.

Council meetings are on a much more professional footing now so a return to those days is unlikely, much to the relief of the Lord Provost no doubt, who has to chair the proceedings.