'Some value' in free lunches for councillors - Local Government NZ

The head of Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) says councillors are underpaid and a call to have catered lunches at meetings scrapped will be bad for council efficiency.

The issue of ratepayer-funded buffet meals at council meetings was raised by Hutt City Council member Campbell Barry who was "sick to my stomach" after councillors tucked in after denying an effective living wage policy.

"Seven of 13 Councillors argued that a Living Wage must only be paid when it is the 'the most cost effective' way for Council to undertake that service," Mr Barry wrote on his Facebook page.

"Meaning few will get it. But [the Councillors] were still happy to sit down and eat their roast chicken."

He estimated stopping those meals would save ratepayers up to $20,000 a year.

But LGNZ president, Hastings Mayor and National Party candidate Lawrence Yule has come to the defence of councillors across New Zealand, saying they're not paid enough for the time they put in.

He told the AM Show councillors, whose salary is set by the Remuneration Authority, have been getting pay rises which reflect the complex issues and long hours they spend on the job.

Auckland councillors are paid $105,800 a year, while salaries in regional councils range between $30,000 and $59,000.

Mr Yule says there is no set rule around how councils feed their staff and there was nothing stopping councillors from being asked to bring their own lunches.

However, he says that would take time from their meetings which could otherwise be spent more wisely.

"During that lunch when everyone is there is when we continue to discuss what we've just talked about for the last three hours and onto the next three, particularly if there are public submissions so I would argue that's working time as well - we generally don't talk about a whole lot of other things.

"In my view the complexity of [bringing your own lunches] and the value gained by people sitting in a room for half an hour without having to prepare lunch or bring it in from the car or all the rest of it, I think there's some value in that," he says.

"I think we can penny pinch around the edges and we can ask councillors to pay for their lunches, but I think in terms of the overall value of decision making that will be to the negative."

They don't have to be lavish lunches either. Mr Yule recalled a meeting of his Hastings Council last week in which they were served soup, bread rolls and sandwiches.

Typically such full buffet meals are served once a month for full-day or evening meetings, but for shorter ones there is typically there is no food provided, Mr Yule says.

Taxpayers Union executive director Jordan Williams says he has no issue with councils putting on light meals for meetings which can run into the evenings.

However, he says the problem is at the country's bigger councils like Auckland Council.

"I've been to meetings that start at 1 o'clock or 2 o'clock and they've got a full buffet lunch spread, and they've got 20 councillors there and 40 or 50 staff come along to help themselves as well," he told the AM Show.

"The message that gives to your organisation, right at the top, is they don't value ratepayer money - because if they're willing waste money on themselves,  even if it's a few hundred thousand dollars on lunches, that sets the tone that they don't respect where that money's coming from."

Mr Barry is set to table a motion at the next Hutt City Council meeting that councillors should provide their own meals before, during and after full council and council committee meetings.