Sunday 8 March 2009

Another free lunch for Brian Coleman

Brian Coleman’s dining arrangements are the subject of legend. Personally, I don’t care how many free lunches any politician receives provided that the person/company paying for the meal does not seek an improper advantage from it. How private organisations choose to spend their money is their business.

But when hospitality is paid for from the public purse, then it becomes our business. Taxpayers are entitled to ask the nature of the function, what benefit we receive from it and, of course, the cost.

Whatever your feelings towards Brian Coleman, he properly declares all hospitality received on the GLA register.

The entry dated 9th January 2009 is of particular interest - lunch at the Haven Restaurant, Whetstone paid for by Ms Emer Coleman. Ms Coleman (pictured right) is not related to our Brian. She is the Director of Strategy for Barnet Council (Chief Spin Doctor to you and me) responsible for "overseeing the implementation of the council's communication and consultation strategies to ensure meaningful two-way communication between residents and the council. Areas covered include the Mayor's office, civic events, media relations, design, publications and corporate website."

Was Ms Coleman really paying for lunch in an expensive restaurant out of her own pocket? If so, we are entitled to ask whether it is appropriate for chief officers to fraternise with councillors in this way. If Barnet Council picked up the tab, then Cllr Coleman’s entry on the GLA register is misleading and I feel sure that he will want to correct it as soon as possible.

Assuming that we, the people, have paid for this lunch, perhaps a council spokesman would care to enlighten us as to its purpose. Was it in connection with the Mayoralty which Brian Coleman will assume in May?

Who else attended, how much did it cost and, assuming the purpose was to discuss council business, why could those present not have met in the perfectly adequate canteen in North London Business Park - or at least gone to a cheaper venue? Has anyone running the council not looked out of the window recently and noticed there is a recession on?

Update: Council Officer Emer Coleman has told Barnet Council Watch that she personally paid for lunch at The Haven with Cllr Coleman.

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