Budget cuts force local bodies to save cash

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Cash-strapped public bodies in St Helens are dramatically slashing the amount they spend on food in the face of swingeing budget cuts.

An investigation by the St Helens Reporter has revealed the cost of refreshments and meals for councillors, as well as staff at St Helens Council, St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and St Helens Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

Our findings show St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust made the biggest savings on staff meals, from £4,145 in 2010/11 down to £1,548 in 2013/14.

A total of 52 staff made 82 claims last financial year, which has more than halved from 109 employees taking 142 subsidised meals.

A trust spokesman said: “In line with the national NHS subsistence allowance guidelines, employees are entitled to reimbursement for necessary expenses when away on official business, this includes allowance for meals. The Trust is committed to reducing costs and continues to work with staff to minimise these expenditures.”

Meanwhile, St Helens Council had also reduced its bill for paid-for meals for council officers, from £2,151 in 2010/11 to £1,512 in 2013/14.

A total of 61 employees claimed 259 meals last financial year, which down from 388 claims by 78 staff.

Five councillors made a total of eight claims for hot food, amounting to £85 in 2013/14, but while the cost has decreased from £99 in 2010/11, the value appears more, as only four members asked for six meals.

A council spokesman said: “Like many employers, the council’s conditions of service include the provision for employees to be able to claim when they are prevented by their official duties from taking their meal in the normal manner.

“It is not unreasonable to recompense employees for the additional expenditure incurred on the few occasions where the need arises.”

The CCG was the only body able to provide a cost for refreshments at meetings, which was £3,898 in 2013/14. A total of £357.12 was spent on sandwiches; £218.40 on tea and coffee; £36 on fresh fruit; £14.40 on bottles water and £3.272 on unidentified hospitality £3,272.60.

As NHS St Helens CCG only became a statutory body on April 1 2013, it does not hold figures for previous years.

A spokesman for the CCG said: “Essentially refreshments will be supplied if we are holding public events over a full morning, day or afternoon that involves people giving up a significant part of their day to attend and also to travel, this will include the public and staff.

“We will supply refreshments to staff attending key CCG meetings that run over the lunchtime period. This often occurs when we require clinical representatives and it is the only time they can attend due to work commitments.

“We do not spend an excessive amount and catering used will always be considered for cost effectiveness and appropriateness of an event.”